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Rhino Doughnuts Is Revitalizing an American Breakfast Staple

Warning: This is not your daddy's doughnut shop.

Chunks of crisp caramelized applewood bacon crown a glazed round of dense yet fluffy dough. Hidden from the eye is a filling of handmade maple custard boiled down nightly from fresh vanilla beans and real maple syrup.

Rainbow-colored M&M's and smooth chocolate are layered atop the ring-shaped candy-bar doughnut. It's offered in a variety of kid-approved flavors: Snickers, Milky Way, Nestle Crunch.

Rounds of fresh banana slices are drizzled with chocolate atop whipped Nutella on the Nutella banana.

Decadent? Yes.

But in fairness, you were warned, and that warning came straight from Rhino Doughnuts & Coffee owners Athan "Tom" Prakas and Davin Tran.

See Also: Today is National Doughnut Day: Five Fun Flavors to Try

With the recent opening of its first location in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea (four more are scheduled to open by the end of the year), Rhino is diving headfirst into the national craze of artisanal doughnuts.

Dubbed by many as the new cupcake (remember that trend?), handcrafted-doughnut shops have been popping up across the country for the past decade, with increasing frequency over the past few years.

See also: Rhino Doughnuts in Lauderdale By The Sea (Slideshow)

The most highly regarded is Voodoo Doughnut. Started in Portland, Oregon, it's known for off-the-wall flavor combinations like Captain My Captain (with Cap'n Crunch cereal) and Bacon Maple Bar. It's now a Food Network regular and an international destination in Portland (and has since branched out to include several locations). It's even teamed up with Oregon-based brewery Rogue Ales to produce several beers. (Another trend that should make its way to Florida.)

Tran and Prakas visited Voodoo while researching the concept. "We hit all the big ones," Prakas says of famed doughnut shops. "From Voodoo in Portland to San Francisco to D.C., we took the best from them and combined it here."

Even though the growing popularity of the breakfast staple would signal a trend for some, Prakas and Tran are confident these treats are a fundamental component of many Americans' diets.

"Eighty percent of doughnut business is from 7 to 11 a.m.," says Prakas. "Sunday mornings are busiest. It's not a fad: Doughnuts are a staple. Some people get a doughnut and a coffee every morning."

To counteract the craze effect, Prakas and Tran aimed to price their pastries competitively. Where the average gourmet doughnut sits at well over three bucks apiece, Rhino's most expensive selection, the maple bacon, is $1.99. The glazed is $1.39.

"We believe in the morning a person is used to spending $4 or $5 for a doughnut and coffee," says Tran. "We want to make sure we're in line with that. This isn't going to change your lifestyle."

It will, however, change your perception of what a doughnut shop should be. When conceptualizing their brainchild, Tran and Prakas knew they wanted to offer an experience rather than just sweet treats for the masses.

The pair met through a mutual friend in fall 2012. Tran, an entrepreneur who previously worked in industries ranging from tech and computers to yachting and tobacco, wanted to break into the restaurant industry. Prakas, a hospitality veteran who owns a restaurant real estate firm, was working out the franchise territory for BurgerFi. Though Tran was initially interested in getting onboard with the South Florida-based burger chain, the two opted instead to go into business together.

Ideas swirled, from cupcakes to beignets and coffees. But Prakas, who previously owned 28 restaurants, wanted something that could be easily replicated. The idea quickly turned to doughnuts and coffee, but they knew they wanted to set themselves apart from the pack.

Keith Freiman was brought on as pastry chef. The Smith & Wollensky, Philippe Chow, and Boca Resort alum makes everything -- from the custards to glaze to strawberry jam -- from scratch. He's even created his own spin on a doughnut/croissant hybrid, dubbed the Rhino Horn.

And the coffee is just as important. For nine months, Tran and Prakas visited micro-roasters around the country to find one that could create the perfect signature blend. After lots of trial and error, they eventually settled on a roaster from Boston that created blends to suit each of their palates.

Tran prefers the lighter smooth (think Dunkin' Donuts) while Prakas favors the overroasted bold blend (more like Starbucks).

"Coffee is usually an afterthought," says Tran. "We weren't going to settle on just anything; it had to be the way we wanted it."

Rhino Doughnuts & Coffee is hosting its grand opening on Tuesday, June 17, with a purple ribbon-cutting. It's offering free doughnuts all day.

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Sara Ventiera

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