Doughnuts run in Jinny Cho’s family. But Jinny had a unique vision for a type of gourmet doughnut that DFW had never seen before. The result was Detour Doughnuts, with rainbow creations like honey lemon mascarpone, rose champagne, taro coconut, fan-favorite cookie monster and even an everything bagel … but as a doughnut.
Get a takeout box or sit comfortably in the shop with your mascarpone latte and doughnut of choice, surrounded by plants, sunlight and neon color. Cho jokes that they’ve had all the tables stowed away longer for COVID-19 than they had them out since opening in 2018.
As devoted customers — known as “Detourists” — breeze through the shop, Cho reflects on her journey as a woman in business. The interview was edited for clarity and length.
How is today’s Jinny Cho different from the Jinny Cho of five years ago?
Totally different person. Jinny five years ago lacked an incredible amount of self-confidence. But objectively, I knew that I had a strong work ethic, and I knew Dallas was ready for doughnuts that were presented differently. Now, I have more trust in myself, and I’m more comfortable with my mistakes. I’ve gotten more comfortable with leadership, and I’ve spent the last two years trying to understand happiness and how I can have that in my personal life and in running this business.
What was the most surprising challenge you encountered in opening and running a gourmet doughnut shop like Detour Doughnuts?
I started this shop with my ex-husband and my parents. It was my vision and what I wanted to do, but they were all in this project in various ways — like in the kitchen or financially or whatever. Now, Detour has been open for four years, and separating this project from family ties has been truly excruciating.
The support that a family gives, even if it’s not exactly the kind of support you want, you know it’s there. It’s a heavy rock that helped me know I would be OK whenever I didn’t have hope.
But it did come to the point where we needed more boundaries, and we needed to separate everything. I’ve spent a good two years of my life doing that, trying to just split this apart without having everything destroyed. That was a hard one. It’s really emotional — harder than I ever imagined. But it’s a different journey.
How do you balance running Detour Doughnuts with being a mom?
When Detour first opened, my son Laurence was a 1-year-old. I had awful postpartum depression. But I couldn’t identify it as depression because I wasn’t really aware of it. I was still motivated to work. I was under the impression that if you’re depressed, you’re not really motivated to do anything. Laurence spent a lot of time in daycare and with my parents. And so that did help a lot in the first three years of his life.
It’s not like I wasn’t there for him. I knew I had to provide for him, which is what tells me, at the end of the day, that I can’t fail. So now that he’s almost 5, I can actually communicate with Laurence. He has a lot of empathy for me as someone who is constantly working.
How did you adapt and survive during COVID-19?
When we first opened Detour Doughnuts’ doors, we didn’t even have a website. I just thought social media was enough to communicate with customers. I didn’t need any more than that, and I didn’t have the money to properly invest in a website.
But that all changed with COVID-19, a year and a half after opening. It’s been difficult having to pivot again and again: making the website, trying to figure out how to do pre-orders and learning how to communicate with customers when we’re not looking at them face to face. How do you do customer service without seeing the customers? But I think we’ve managed to maintain the quality of our customer service.
Now we’re trying to pivot back in a way that keeps all the pandemic additions alive so that we can go back if we need to. But we’re also reinvesting our time, money and energy to bring people back inside.
I already knew that I was an extremely adaptable person. I was born in Korea, then thrown into American English-speaking schools where there were no Asian kids or anyone who understood me. So adapting is a life skill that I’ve literally had since I was 7. A big thing I’ve learned is that everything changes all the time. Change used to cause me a lot of emotional stress. But it’s clear that everything is always changing. So if I can say I’m not going to get emotionally stressed about the fact that things change, then I can just focus on solutions and put my energy there.
How can you be a business owner without compromising on values?
When I made my #StopAsianHate doughnuts, it was a situation where love overwhelmingly spoke louder than the small amount of hate I received as a result from a few obviously racist people. There was an energy of caring for one another here that was undeniable. So that was important for the community.
It’s an experiment. I think most big businesses have compromised somewhere along the way. And it’s not that I don’t understand compromise, but I would like to see if I can do this in the most humane way possible, the fairest way possible, the most sustainable way possible, the most environmentally conscious way possible, etc. How can I stay true to myself and my values by being underground? It is still a business at the end of the day, and the numbers matter. Being flexible is important.
What are three tips you have for women who want to be successful entrepreneurs?
Build trust within yourself. There will be a lot of unforeseen challenges that test who you really are. And if you don’t know who you are, that makes it difficult — you might make decisions that you regret. So building trust within yourself is important.
Have people in your life that care about you. Have mentors, friends and family that want you to be successful and get joy from your success.
Don’t be scared of your femininity. Every female boss, especially people of color, faces issues that can’t really be explained beyond being a woman or not being taken seriously. It doesn’t happen to me as often anymore because of the reputation I’ve built for the store. But it still happens every once in a while, and I remember what it’s like to be treated like that. There was a time when I wanted to be more like a man. I would think, “What would a man do?” But I don’t think that’s the right take. I want to be comfortable in my instincts and how I am as a female who is wired differently. So don’t be scared of that. Be mindful of when you’re pulling from your femininity and when you’re pulling from your masculinity.
In case you missed it, here are Local Profile’s interviews with North Texas female leaders.