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Five years after a Filipino Canadian couple bought this Granville Island institution, they’ve got expansion on the menu

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Sample doughnuts and a menu sit at the warehouse of Lee’s Donuts in Vancouver. Once a single shop on Granville Island, Lee's is now expanding its reach to other parts of Greater Vancouver.Photography by Kayla Isomura/The Globe and Mail

Five years after Allan and Celine Bacani bought Lee’s Donuts, a Granville Island institution since 1979, they’ve got expansion on the menu.

Earlier this year, they opened a warehouse, allowing them to produce more doughnuts and reach other areas of Metro Vancouver – including the first franchise location, in Langley, B.C. And in 2021, they launched Honey Dip, a gallery and event space.

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Allan Bacani plays bass guitar in his office; Celine Bacani holds doughnuts at the Lee's warehouse.

Mr. Bacani was a long-time customer of Lee’s; “I’ve been buying doughnuts from there for decades,” he said. But he didn’t think about owning it until years later, as he always expected to take over the family butcher business.

But plans change. “Things don’t come up very often at Granville Island and so when the opportunity came up, we definitely stayed focused and strategized, talked to the right people and did our homework,” Mrs. Bacani said.

Bidding on the shop was, she adds, a “nerve-wracking process.”

The Bacanis acquired Lee’s in 2018, and shortly thereafter renovated the storefront. Classic flavours – including for Mr. Bacani’s favourite, honey dip – stayed the same, however.

In 2019, the shop was featured on the premiere episode of the Netflix series Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, with actor Seth Rogen bringing host David Chang by for a raspberry jelly doughnut. The appearance helped propel expansion.

The couple is Filipino Canadian, and Mrs. Bacani says seeing how their parents made their way in Canada has allowed them to take new risks.

“If you ask about what it means to me, it’s so much more than just a doughnut shop,” she said. “It’s always so much more than that.”

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Cecilia Chiarenza talks to customers at the Lee's location inside the Granville Island Public Market.

Tondra Meheroon fills doughnuts with custard, while honey glazed doughnuts sit on a display shelf. The original honey-glazed favour was Mr. Bacani's favourite in the years before he bought the shop.
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A visitor to Honey Dip Studios holds a T-shirt from Lee's Donuts, whose original location is a block away. The Bacanis, who have backgrounds in music and dance, opened the gallery in 2021 under the shop's brand.

Jigs Dimaculangan ices a chocolate cake doughnut. He says a visit by Seth Rogen Netflix series helped fuel the expansion of Lee’s.
Mark Panganiban, director of operations, removes a tray from the deep fryer during a visit to train staff from the Langley location.
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Anna Abueg and Chi Mita work on doughnuts at the warehouse five days after its grand opening. It supplies the franchise location in Langley, as well as food courier services, Mr. Dimaculangan says.