Maureen and Dick Bell established their doughnut business in the backyard of their Oakleigh home in the late 1960s. The business was known as Mobile Donut Vans and the earliest sites included Hurst Reserve (cnr Ferntree Gully and Dandenong Rds) in Oakleigh, and Clayton shopping centre, which we continued to operate until about 2003. The first doughnut van was affectionately known as Snoopy (see photo).
‘The Ford', ‘the Merc', and ‘the Inter’ were followed by ‘Blue Hills’ – so named after the long running tv serial (as it took so long to be built). These vehicles were constructed by Dick, again in the backyard. The dough was hand mixed in large wooden troughs that were located in each van. Once the dough had risen, it was knocked back, pulled out, rolled and cut - all by hand. The donuts would then be proved again prior to cooking.
In the mid 1970s, Dick and Maureen purchased another doughnut business from Maureen's mother and stepfather, acquiring another 4 vans in the process. The Oakleigh property was sold and land was purchased in Maxwell Street in Dandenong (now Dandenong South). A new factory was built and equipped with a cool room, mechanical mixer and dough divider/rounder. It was also about this time that the business commenced operating, and still operates, at the Dandenong Market (then only open on Tuesdays). The property next door was purchased about two years later to accommodate a growing number of vehicles (the family also resided here for a period). By this time, vending sites included VFL grounds (MCG, VFL Park, Victoria Park, Western Oval, Princes Park, Junction Oval, Arden St), Sandown car racing, Moomba Festival (where 10 vans operated simultaneously), agricultural shows (Dandenong, Royal Melbourne, Berwick, Lilydale, Whittlesea), Thomastown Market, Sunbury festivals, Sydney Myer Music Bowl, MCG cricket, Queen Victoria Market, Stud Rd Rowville (outside Caribbean Gardens) and Heathcote dragway. At various times the business also operated a catering business, spit roast van, hamburger van and hot dog van (Dandee Dogs)!
Maureen passed away in 1993 and shortly after this Victoria Market declined to extend the lease due to market renovations. The business then went in to a decline and Dick became ill. When Dick passed away in 2002, the business passed to his children, Susan and Andrew. In 2007, Susan bought Andrew out of his share of the business and is now the sole owner.
In recent years, significant reinvestments have been made in the business. A new cutter/divider machine was purchased, though the original mixer is still going strong 40+ years later! In 2012, the business relocated to a new purpose built factory in Hallam, a vast improvement on the previous tired building. In August 2013, the ageing caravan was replaced with a new portable building that has been permanently situated at the Dandenong Market. A new truck joined the fleet mid 2016, with another joining in early 2018.
We have two members of staff, Virginia Nisbet and Barry Fielder, who have both worked in excess of 30 years (and Susan, who started very young in the backyard in Oakleigh).
Our doughnuts have remained very popular over a long period of time and I believe this is because the doughnuts are freshly made (usually within 24 hours of sale). The doughnuts are then cooked on site, and on demand. And the jam of course!
Our doughnuts evoke childhood memories from many people, particularly the Dandenong Market where we have been operating for several generations. The purple and gold colours of the vans, chosen as they were the Oakleigh Football Club colours, also stir memories from purchases made at the many venues we have catered at over the years.
Thoughts of altering the recipe, for a variety of reasons, are always eventually discarded as we don't want to mess with perfection! The only change was the removal of a colouring agent (guessing dad just ran out one day!). It made the donuts look more yellow before they were cooked but really served no purpose. So we continue to make them just as they were made 50 years ago, albeit with a little mechanical help!
Photo one: 'Blue Hills' donut van at cricket at the MCG around 1977 (photo obtained from the ABC program 'Tractor Monkeys').
Photo two: one of our earlier staff members Shirley in the 'Merc'; Shirley's husband Alan also worked for us. It looks like it might be Maureen at the back. Check out the price of the donuts! This is probably mid 70s.
Photo three: 'The Project' investigated whether people would be willing to swap their donuts for fruit. The result was a resounding 'no'!