Meet the Owner: Mr. D’s Coffee

Published on October 27, 2023

Chef/owner of Mr. D's Coffee Johnny Chen standing in front of his merchant stall

The original concept didn’t include coffee.

"I remember a couple of days before the [merchant interest] deadline, I got a call from The Roasterie and the VP of Sales Isaac Hodges was like, ‘Hey, I see you are popping up a lot. I know you guys are thinking about having a donut shop here, but I have a better idea for you. We're going to exit. Do you guys want to take it over from us?’”

That conversation in January 2021 quickly led to a change in plans.

“I love coffee, but I had no idea how to make coffee,” said Johnny Chen, chef/owner of Mr. D’s Coffee inside the Lenexa Public Market and Mr. D’s Donuts in Shawnee.

Donuts first

Mr. D’s Donuts was founded in 1975 at 75th Street and Nieman Road; the original location they still operate today. When Johnny and his wife, Boggie Otgonbayar, took over the donut shop from Johnny’s godparents in 2017, they hoped to expand the business.

“From the first time I visited the market, I fell in love with the concept. Plus, a lot of our customers live in the Lenexa area, so it was a very convenient location.”

During weekends January through March 2021, Mr. D’s Donuts delighted Public Market donut-lovers with weekly pop-up events.

“The donuts have been around for 48 years, so a lot of our customers grew up knowing us,” Johnny said.

Knowing that a coffee bar is the perfect complement to donuts, they jumped at the chance to submit a proposal to be a new anchor tenant at the Public Market. When The Roasterie ended operations at the Public Market on March 31, 2021, Mr. D’s Coffee took over and opened in that space 12 hours later. The transition was seamless.

“It was never part of the initial concept, but we love coffee, and coffee and donuts are a good combination,” Johnny said. “People still walk up to the shop, and they don’t even know that it’s Mr. D’s Coffee. They still think it’s The Roasterie.”

For the donut ingredients, sticking to the basics has been the proven system.

“We use yeast, flour, donut mix and organic sugar — that’s it,” Johnny said. “We don’t use any additives or stabilizers.”

When Johnny took over the donut business, he made sure to nail down the recipes.

“My godparents had been doing it for so long, so they just eyeballed everything,” he said. But for us, we come from corporate world and want it to be exact measurements so anyone could be able to step in if needed and follow the recipe.”

That means Tuesday through Sunday, donuts are baked fresh at their central kitchen on 75th Street and transported to the Public Market. Honey dipped, donut holes, long johns, twists, bow ties, cinnamon rolls, fritters and more can all be found, and with no use of frozen dough.

Donuts and coffee are a natural pairing. But dabbling in the caffeinated business was a learning curve.

Coffee second

“It’s been very eye-opening to see how much goes into making a cup of coffee; especially handcrafted like our coffee shop,” Johnny said. We grind it, we tamp it, we hand press, and we handcraft the cup of coffee, finishing with latte art. That’s something you can’t get from a machine.”

Mr. D’s Coffee offers a full coffee bar featuring Messenger Coffee. And the baristas are often given creative freedom to help shape the menu.

“During our team meetings quarterly, we gather around and start making drinks,” Johnny said. Everyone kind of makes their own specialty drink or their favorite and each person tries them all and we take a vote on which seasonal drink we’ll go with."

That’s how the Thai Tea latte and Honey Lavender made their debut as seasonal drinks. They gained so much popularity that those drinks are now served year-round.

“It makes me feel very good to give our baristas some creative freedom. It helps us grow as a company [coffee shop].”

It’s not just the baristas who get to show off their new creations. As a proud Taiwanese American, Johnny loves to share his culture through Asian-inspired menu items.

“We’re very proud to showcase all the different Asian flavors like the mochi donuts and a flavor we use called ube — it’s basically a purple sweet yam,” he said. The purple color is intriguing, but the slightly nutty and vanilla flavors are what captures customers for repeat visits. “It’s a slow start at first but then once people try it, they love it.”

From celebrating Lunar New Year and Cinco de Mayo to honoring Cosmo Burger for their Public Market merchant anniversary and commemorating the Kansas City Chiefs during the playoffs, Mr. D’s Coffee has unveiled a variety of specialty donuts at the Market. The menu often changes but for a limited time only.

“The Public Market staff is very accepting of new ideas,” Johnny said. “We don’t just focus on traditional American holidays — we branch out.”

With the addition of twin girls last year, Johhny and Boggie strive to lead their daughters by example. That means spreading kindness and giving back to the community.

“We receive so much support from our customers and then we just want to give it back and create this positive cycle,” Johnny said.

Most recently, Mr. D’s Coffee hosted the third annual Donut’cha Stop Walking & Running 5K in October with all proceeds benefitting the culinary scholarship program at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

Next time you visit Mr. D’s Coffee in the Public Market, ask them what’s on their seasonal menu and give it a try. Surprise yourself with a new coffee drink (or donut)!

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