Special/Signature Issues » 2014 Top 40 Under 40

Ian Kelley, 29

Owner, Sugar Shack Donuts


Ian Kelley is about to roll baker’s racks filled with 50 dozen doughnuts across the street from the Lombardy location of Sugar Shack to the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School. The students there are raising money to help build a school in Guatemala.

“How could I say no to that?” he says.

Kelley, a former chef, also serves as the girls’ varsity soccer coach, a position he’s held for five years, even after he opened his doughnut shop last year that became a quickly flourishing business. “I can’t play competitively anymore,” he says. “It’s my personal time. Even though it looks like work from the outside, for me, it’s not.”

In the past year, Kelley has opened another Sugar Shack on East Main Street, with three more planned in the coming months. He’s gone from having 12 employees to 40. “It evolved from making just enough money to support me and my employees,” he says, “to making enough money to set up charities, give back to the community and open more stores.”

In 2010, tired of the life of a chef, Kelley noticed that although there were a few coffee shops in Richmond, no one was doing both high-end coffee and doughnuts. He obsessively read all of the books about Starbucks and came up with a detailed, 100-page business plan. Wildly successful, he automatically donates a percentage of Sugar Shack’s gross sales to local charities, has rallied volunteers to help refurbish nearby Carver Elementary, and gives away doughnuts in exchange for canned goods, which he donates to FeedMore.

Kelley gives away a lot of doughnuts — he runs crazy free-doughnut contests through social media every day, and just recently held elaborate competitions for folks to win tickets to the crowd-sourced Foo Fighters show at the National. The contest that made him most proud was a Foo Fighters ticket-raffle he ran in conjunction with Amy Black for the Pink Ink Fund, which helps breast-cancer survivors pay for post-mastectomy tattoos. “We raised $18,000 in about 72 hours,” Kelley says. Now that’s a sugar rush.