Before Shawn Neifeld opened Mojo Donuts, South Florida's hottest doughnut shop, with his wife, Shelly, he spun records at strip clubs Cheetah and Miami Gold. Before that, he owned a gambling magazine, an ice cream shop in Lauderhill, and CD stores in the '90s. Most of the time, he was also working as a stripper.
Neifeld is an entrepreneur — the old-fashioned sort. He's not the guy who raises a few hundred grand from some Silicon Valley investor and hires a few programmers to create a forgettable smartphone app. He's the 70-hour-a-week, put-it-all-on-the-line guy.
"My eyes are always open to things, ideas, what's next, where is the next opportunity," he says.
At Mojo Donuts, located in an easy-to-miss strip mall in Pembroke Pines, Neifeld is frantic and affable at the same time. As I grab a seat at the glass-topped table where he sits on a weekday morning, he's counting cash and scanning a checklist while hugging employees and flashing wide smiles at customers walking through the door.
"I'm more famous now as a freakin' doughnut peddler than I ever was as a DJ," he chuckles. It's for good reason. Neifeld brought to South Florida the gourmet-doughnut craze that first took off in cities like Portland and New York.
After the first bite into a salted peanut and chocolate doughnut, there's little to do other than close your eyes and try not to moan too loudly. There's the crunch of the peanuts and the overwhelming sweetness of chocolate, intensified by salt. The real treat is the doughnut itself. While the doughnuts we've become used to are limp and chewy, Mojo's are oversized puffs of semisweet delight. A bite into it and the doughnut compresses, then bounces back to its previous shape. They're never greasy and disappear within moments.
Neifeld is painfully vague and dodgy when it comes to what goes into Mojo's doughnuts. Obviously there are the toppings: peanut butter and jelly, crumbles of bacon and maple frosting, Snickers pieces, and potato sticks on the "420" doughnut. The variety and decadence are overwhelming. Children sprint through the front door and straight up to the display case, nearly crashing through the glass. Adults purse their lips and put a hand to their cheek trying to decide which to order.
The doughnuts are baked fresh every night. A baker shows up between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. After dough is mixed, fried, and given time to cool, a "dresser" arrives at 3 a.m. and gets to work on the toppings. At 5 a.m., Neifeld's first counter person shows up, along with an additional dresser, and additional staff begins rolling in on the hour.
What Neifeld will reveal is that his doughnuts are fried in trans-fat-free oil, which is slightly more expensive than trans-fat oil, and that they weigh "two, two-and-a-half ounces before frying. Dunkin's are like an ounce."
Mojo was inspired by Voodoo Donuts in Portland. Neifeld initially reached out to the owners to see if they wanted to open a South Florida location.
"They wrote me back and said, 'Thanks but no thanks,' " he says, " 'but thanks for feeling the mojo.' "
The brief note gave Mojo its name; Jupiter Donut Factory gave the Neifelds a bit of hands-on training, and they were off.
Early on, the store's success wasn't so certain.
"Not one person popped their head in while we were building the place out," Neifeld says. "And the first couple of weeks, we didn't have anyone."
Yet the food bloggers soon caught on, followed by local television and the rest of South Florida. Though Neifeld says he'd love to open a Miami-Dade shop and is planning one in Boca Raton, the hardest part remains figuring out how many doughnuts to make every day.
A sign reading "It's better to sell out than to throw out" hangs above the coffee carafes, and Neifeld makes no bones about the imperfect science that is the doughnut business.
"If someone comes in at 3 p.m., you want there to be a nice selection," he says. "But we don't sell day-old doughnuts, and we end up giving away what's left over at the end of a day."