Chris Bartalotta quits basketball to build That’s Alotta Donuts empire with IGA and mum and dad
Chris Bartalotta always dreamed of becoming one of ‘the best basketballers of all time’ but after experiencing a string of injuries at the professional level he quit.
It was heartbreaking, and eight-year-old him would have been shattered.
He was 23 at the time and devastated but determined to ‘do something’ so decided to go into the dessert business, focusing on doughnuts.
There was just one problem, he had no actual experience in the business world, or in the kitchen.
So he approached his mum Antoinette, 57, a finance whiz, and dad Frank, 55, a baker to help.
‘I love doughnuts, for dad and me they are like a fine wine. Even now we enjoy them. So we knew it was the right business for us,’ he told FEMAIL.
Chris Bartalotta, pictured right, started a doughnut business with his mum Antoinette, and dad Frank when he was 23 after quitting pro basketball career
He wanted his ‘comic-theme style’ dessert bar to take off but never imagined it would be as popular as it is now
The family scraped together $2million to start the daring endeavour and ‘That’s Alotta Donuts’ was born.
‘It was scary, we knew we had a good idea and that we could pay it off, but it is a lot of money, and I was asking them to put everything on the line,’ he said.
The set-up included specialist machinery needed to make the doughnuts and ice cream and allow for the business to expand without the need to buy more equipment.
Five years on they have paid off their debts and are thriving – but there were moments along the way when they thought they would lose everything.
When Covid came around the family faced real financial pressure, just as their business was beginning to mature.
The Melbourne-based bakery, like other ‘non-essential services’, was staring at ruin.
Then sales exploded in a way Chris never would have predicted.
He was sure his business would always sell direct to the customer, but then Tony Ingpen, the manager of Mt Evelyn IGA, asked to stock Chris’ doughnuts in his store.
The business was facing a huge hurdle when Covid hit and they had to close down shopfronts – but were picked up by Tony Ingpen, an IGA manager with a sweet spot for small businesses
‘We aimed to provide Tony with 100 doughnuts every two days, but they were popular and before we knew it he was ordering 200-per-day,’ he said.
One store became three, then 42 and soon the business will be expanding to another 40 – all across Australia.
‘We went from selling 200-per-day to Tony to 2,000 per day to all of the stores.
He now sells 8,000 doughnuts every day, through the family’s own two shops, their network of IGA stores, and online customers.
Chris manages the business, falling back on skills forged as team captain of state, national and international basketball teams.
His mum takes care of the finances and his dad, the doughnuts.
‘He is a baker by trade, he started when he was 15 before going into wholesale fruit. He is back in the kitchen with me full time and has been since I suggested we do doughnuts,’ he said.
‘I was battling a few injuries and he suggested we look for an actual business to do together,’ Chris said, of his decision to finish playing basketball
His dad planted the seeds for the doughnut business, Chris said.
‘I was battling a few injuries and he suggested we look for an actual business to do together,’ he said.
‘It was my idea to focus on dessert, we are based in Melbourne after all,’ he said.
The father-son duo then travelled the world looking for the best doughnut, custard and ice cream recipes to make their business shine.
And what started out as a business being run by the three members of the family eventually grew.
‘There are 42 people in the business now,’ he said.
A baking team, led by his father, starts cooking in the early afternoon, then the decorating squad turns up at 11pm to dress the doughnuts.
‘They work until 5-6 in the morning, then all the drivers leave so we can get the doughnuts to the stores and to our online customers,’ he said.
The jam and cream doughnuts are the most popular, according to Chris.
But he says the overall look and feel of the ‘comic themed’ dessert shop has been key to success.
Chris says he loves doughnuts and is proud his scary gamble worked for the better
Chris had been playing basketball from the age of eight and was gutted when he had to quit because of injuries
The doughnuts are designed to pop on Instagram – as is the walk-in experience in store.
‘I never thought the business would expand like this, even though I was sure we would be successful,’ he said.
‘It has been really remarkable – and we are just excited to take on the next challenge – moving to stores nationwide which means getting a frozen product right,’ he said.
Chris said he never saw himself as a business person.
‘When I had to leave basketball I was pretty disappointed, I remember feeling it had all been a waste of time.
‘But it turns out it was meant to be.’
IGA have a focus on giving local suppliers shelf space, with each store ‘given the power to pick and choose what they want to stock’.
This helps them help family-run business like ‘That’s Alotta Doughnuts’ succeed and gives them the opportunity for nation-wide exposure.