Food & Drink

‘Open-theater’ food experience finds audience in State College

Fran O’Neill frosts and tops doughnuts on Wednesday at Peace, Love and Little Donuts in State College.
Fran O’Neill frosts and tops doughnuts on Wednesday at Peace, Love and Little Donuts in State College.

If you’ve been seeing more adorable mini doughnuts popping up in your social media feed recently, you may have a new doughnut shop in town to blame. Pittsburgh favorite Peace, Love and Little Donuts has been exploding across the region, with more than two dozen locations, and it’s finally made its way to downtown State College.

When four good friends decided to go into business together, according to co-owners Beth Ellyn Dipaola and Jess Rust, doughnuts were an obvious option. The two, who met at a previous job, own the shop along with their husbands, Len Dipaola and William Rust.

“People love doughnuts, they make people smile,” Beth Ellyn Dipaola said. “Generally you’re not going to run into an unhappy person with a doughnut.”

The choice to bring the brand to State College was also an easy one. William Rust is a Penn State alumnus, and Jess Rust said they’re “huge fans of State College. We love the atmosphere. It’s one of our favorite places in Pennsylvania.”

So, if Happy Valley is right for the two couples, what do they think makes their doughnuts right for Happy Valley? While they say the doughnuts themselves are great, it’s the customer experience that is above and beyond what you’d find in any other doughnut shop.

“Not only are you getting a great doughnut, you’re also getting a wonderful experience from start to finish,” Dipaola said.

In what they call an “open-theater” food experience, everything is made right in front of the customer. With no back room, guests get a glimpse of the entire doughnut-making process, from the batter all the way up to the toppings. The customer is involved in the creation of their doughnuts, picking and choosing from the almost endless array of options, until the warm and freshly cooked treat arrives in their hands.

The result so far?

“The community response has been absolutely amazing and absolutely wonderful,” Rust said. “They helped spread the word and were supportive since day 1.”

“We couldn’t ask for more support,” Dipaola said. “Everyone has been a part of helping spread the word ... and helping make it a success. Instagram has been huge; people have had so much fun with getting their (doughnut) photos out there. All in all, the customer response has been incredible.”

One of the top sellers since opening has been Maple Bacon, followed by S’Mores, Samoa and Apple Pie. Donuts come in three “types” — Groovy, Far Out and Funkadelic. They range from tame, like your classic powdered sugar and chocolate frosted, to a little more outgoing, hence the decadent concoctions such as those that have proved most popular.

For October, the shop featured pumpkin doughnuts, which were a huge hit. While they’re gone for the season, Dipaola and Rust said the seasonal and limited-time varieties will make reappearances throughout the year ... but you’ll have to stay tuned to Facebook to know when. They’re now working on their holiday varieties, and while the details are under wraps, customers may be able to expect festive sprinkles, mint flavors and other Yuletide touches. In the meantime, the two encourage customers to speak up on social media if there’s a flavor or variety you’d like to see.

With creative options appearing regularly (they even put together a White Out game day box for the recent Penn State game — with all-white mini doughnuts, of course), there’s no telling what miniature mouthful of fun you’ll find next at Peace, Love and Little Donuts. However, one thing’s for certain — this friends-and-family business has been fitting into the Happy Valley family with ease.

The shop is located at 421 E. Calder Way and is open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.

Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at