Her resumé doesn’t suggest she’d end up in doughnut business. Sonia Gillies-da Mota graduated from Memorial University of Newfoundland with a degree in marine biology. She focused in aquaculture, mainly working with Atlantic salmon. She began her career in marine biology at the Ocean Science Center working with harp seals. She then progressed into oyster and salmon aquaculture.
While she was still in university, Marine Harvest (the biggest salmon-farming company in the world) recruited her. She moved to British Columbia to take the job, but soon realized that she really wanted to work for herself. She decided to start her first company, CANPOR, trading as a seafood broker and moved to Halifax shortly after.
She met former navy sailor Nicole Tufts, who has become a business partner and a friend. They opened Riot Snack Bar on Quinpool Road. It was a farm-to-table restaurant that specialized in making traditional comfort food such as burgers, chilli fries, fries etc., with local organic and seasonal ingredients.
“What Nicole and I really pioneered with that restaurant was the fact that the whole menu could be made vegan or vegetarian, so it was a place where, regardless of dietary preferences, everyone could eat under one roof,” says Gillies-da Mota.
Tufts started off in music production when she was younger. She switched into culinary school and became a chef before age 25. She got tired of the same routine and decided she wanted to travel more, so she joined the navy for six years. Then she also realized she didn’t want to work for anyone else. Soon she met Gillies-da Mota. Riot was their first venture.
Vandal Doughnuts, in Gus’ Pub on Agricola Street, came next—touted as the world’s only doughnut shop inside a bar. Tufts says they were “able to do everything they wanted to do when they were kids,” like creating doughnuts inspired by pop culture.
They even do a Donald Trump doughnut, with proceeds going to Planned Parenthood. Doughnuts have pop-culture referencing names such as Prince, The Simpsons, Froot Loops, and Rick N’ Morty. Tufts says their reason for creating doughnut names like these ones is “just pure fun! To be silly and creative as possible.”
They say that they haven’t had any setbacks while opening Vandal Doughnuts. The stress doesn’t compare to their last venture. “We paid our dues of hardship with Riot Snack Bar,” Gillies-da Mota says.
Adds Tufts: “There were a lot of nights spent in the fetal position and watching Super Soul Sunday with Oprah Winfrey.”
They chose the name Vandal Doughnuts to reflect their personalities. “It’s because we’re sassy, creative, and rebellious,” says Gillies-da Mota.
“If you name your business something rebellious, you have a little bit more freedom” adds Tufts.