On Thursdays, when Sarah Wallace is pulling an all-nighter making donuts so they will be fresh for her customers the next morning, she sometimes hears the Food Network judges’ voices in her head.
“The biggest thing is you have to deliver flavor,” she says. “If it’s honey lavender crème brûlée, for example, the judges better taste the honey and the lavender.”
So, when she comes up with ideas for her Flamingo Donuts — a business she launched in Wesley Chapel just a couple of months ago — she’s always thinking about how to be sure the flavor is strong enough to come through on the donut itself.
That’s just one of the lessons she has learned from her time on “Holiday Baking Championship” and other Food Network shows.
After making it all the way to the finals of the “Holiday Baking Championship” (Season 6), which aired in 2019, she has participated in other Food Network shows, too. She served as a judge on “Buddy vs. Duff” (Season 3) and most recently was a contestant on “Guy’s Grocery Games” (Season 31).
As a contestant on “Holiday Baking Championship,” Sarah jumped at the chance to test her skills on the show just two weeks after her wedding. At the time, she was the general manager of the Magnolia Bakery in Boston.
She told her job she didn’t know how long she’d be gone.
She also told her new husband she was sorry they had to postpone their honeymoon. It didn’t faze him, though.
“It’s the Food Network,” she says Daniel told her. “If the Food Network calls, you go.”
So she did, and made it all the way to the final round, where she competed with two other bakers. Her plaid cake ultimately came up just shy of the big win.
Four years later, Sarah and her husband, Daniel Belisle, have moved to Wesley Chapel to be closer to her parents and other family members.
The couple now lives in Union Park and are parents to Jonah, age two, and four-month-old Jude. Sarah sometimes uses Belisle as her last name.
She calls donuts “the love of her life,” even though her early career revolved around cakes. She says if she ever had a hard day at Magnolia Bakery, like if she had to fire someone, she would walk down to nearby Union Square Donuts and cheer herself up with a donut.
“They had this brown butter hazelnut donut that was the best donut I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Sarah says.
When Magnolia had to shut its doors during the pandemic and didn’t know if it would reopen, Sarah was thrilled to land a new job as the executive pastry chef for Union Square Donuts.
“I made 238 different donuts during my time with them,” says Sarah.
She calls donuts a fun challenge, where she tries to reimagine any and every kind of dessert.
Sarah says donuts are just as versatile as a cake in that she can flavor the batter, flavor the glaze, and garnish with any topping or decoration she can imagine.
“There are so many different ways to pack flavor into a donut,” she says. “And it’s better than a cake because it’s deep fried.”
She says it was “excruciating” to leave what she calls her dream job with Union Square to move to Florida.
“I loved my team,” she says, “and we made the best donuts in Boston.”
But, Sarah and Daniel made the decision to move to Wesley Chapel to raise their family. When they arrived, they embarked on something of a donut tour, finding all the places they could, evaluating Tampa’s “donut game.”
“We tried a lot of mini donuts, cake donuts, donuts made using a depositor, but there were no giant, yeasted artisan donuts,” she says.
She figured, “If anyone’s going to bring those donuts here, it’s got to be me.”
Sarah says she named her business Flamingo Donuts because she wanted a symbol that reminds people of Tampa without using the name. Her mom is something of a flamingo collector (“her whole house is bejeweled flamingoes,” she says) and when Sarah saw Phoebe, the giant flamingo at Tampa International Airport, she knew it was the perfect symbol for her new business.
With the name chosen, Sarah says she set out to bring “the biggest, most beautiful donuts people are ever going to see” to Wesley Chapel.
“Every donut is an experience,” she says. “I’m taking a donut and elevating it.”
She says everything is made from scratch, every dough and every topping, and nothing is made ahead of time.
For now, Sarah rents a commercial kitchen and works overnight to ensure her donuts are fresh.
Flamingo Donuts are delivered every Friday morning to The Bean Bar Co. in Tampa Palms (17018 Palm Pointe Dr., near Cali restaurant). Sarah also sells them at the Market Elaine at the Grove the first Friday of every month (the next one is Jan. 5) and at the Ybor City Saturday Market (1901 N 19th St.) every Saturday. She also recently added the Tampa Bay Markets’ Fresh Market at the Shops at Wiregrass the first Saturday of every month and the Second Sunday Harvest Market at The Grove.
“When I show up at the market with 200 donuts, it’s kind of like putting on a show,” she says. “I want to tell people, ‘I hand made every donut here for you.’”
She says her favorite thing is when someone takes a donut and she can see the look on their face when they realize it’s unlike any donut they’ve ever had before.
“I had a guy recently who took a bite and his eyebrows just shot up,” she says.
“I hadn’t slept in two days but it was totally worth it to see his face when he bit into that donut.”
And she is constantly trying to outdo herself. “I need to step it up a notch,” she says, “just like when I was trying to beat out nine other bakers.”
For example, everyone has to have a glazed donut, she says, but why would someone choose hers? Sarah explains that most glazed donuts are honey-based.
“I found wildflower honey and decided to add a fondant black-eyed Susan,” she says. “Now I’m giving this big, giant brioche-y donut, covered in wildflower honey glaze, a handmade wildflower made of sugar. So, I still have the classics that people look for, but elevated in a different way.”
Another example is her “South of Boston Crème” donut, which has more of a pudding filling than just pastry crème, topped with a dark chocolate glaze.
Her holiday flavors — available at the markets in December — include chocolate peppermint brownie batter (peppermint brownie batter filling, chocolate glaze, topped with candy cane bits), brown butter pecan praline (nutty brown butter glaze covered with brown sugar pecan praline crumbles), eggnog float (a little gingerbread man in the middle with his arms behind his head who looks like he’s floating on a donut inner tube), and traditional strawberry sufganiyot for Hanukkah.
As the holidays approach, Sarah and her family have developed a somewhat unusual twist on a Christmas tradition.
“We watch ‘Home Alone,’ ‘Die Hard,’ and my season of ‘Holiday Baking Championship,’” she laughs.
You can find Flamingo Donuts at the markets mentioned above or by visiting her Flamingo-Donuts.com website or on Instagram @eatflamingodonuts and Facebook @flamingodonuts.