When George Carlton, owner of Daddy's Donuts (2051 Caton St.) inquired about my favorite donut flavor, I was a little embarrassed to answer.
In a shop that sells some of the most creative and offbeat donuts in the city — including one filled with hot sausage and Swiss cheese — my answer was sure to be received as pretty dull.
"I'd have to go with a basic rainbow sprinkle," I said, lowering my eyes sheepishly. "I guess I'm kind of a kid at heart about my donuts."
George's eyes immediately lit up. "Oh, that's great! I actually wanted to call the donut shop 'Sprinkle Donuts' because that's my favorite, too," Carlton laughed. "When we would come to the shop while it was being built out, though, my son would just always call it "Daddy's Donuts" and the name stuck. People think it's about being a "sugar daddy" or a "big daddy" and will say that when they come in, but really it just came from my son."
A wave of relief washed over me.
Located underneath a peach and robin's egg blue sign in Gentilly painted with a (yes) sprinkle donut, Carlton opened Daddy's Donuts just over four years ago after being diagnosed with ALS, the progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord — the same disease that former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason is fighting.
Before his diagnosis, Carlton worked in construction, but was looking for something a little bit more fun.
"Working in construction, especially here in New Orleans after [Hurricane] Katrina, was really bad. Everyone was always really mad at everyone else. My dad was into donuts, and I used to help him deliver them, so I wanted to give that a shot. With donuts, there's never a bad day. People come in and are always excited to talk and get their donuts."
Customers filed in and out this afternoon, grabbing the sweet treats and chatting with George like old friends. George talked about ideas for upcoming exotic donuts — cheesecake flavored, ice cream flavored — and ribbed a few people for just buying cold drinks.
"Making donuts from scratch everyday means getting up in the middle of the night all the time, but Mardi Gras is when things get really crazy," Carlton said, wide-eyed. "Zulu lines up at 4:00 in the morning, and they love glazed donuts. The tables are stacked halfway to the ceiling with with boxes on boxes of glazed donuts for them."
The recent viral ALS ice bucket challenge campaign, in which people post a video of themselves pouring ice cold water on their heads and/or donating to ALS research, is heartening for Carlton. He plans on hosting a big party on Sunday for the cause, complete with four ice buckets and donuts galore.
"Here in New Orleans, Steve Gleason has already raised awareness a good deal, but this has just really brought public awareness to a whole new level. It's amazing. I'm so happy about it."
Daddy's Donuts is open 7 days a week, 6 a.m. until 1 p.m.