My Rouses Everyday, July/August 2017
The newest burger venture in Baton Rouge, Louisiana —
District Donuts, Sliders and Brew — recently opened in the Towne Center on Corporate Boulevard, joining the highly competitive hamburger scene in a city known for its burger prowess.
At the helm are childhood friends Chris Audler, Aaron Vogel and Stephen Cali. Audler and Cali worked together at New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood Company, where they often talked about their shared aspirations for owning their own culinary-based business.
“We all know our lanes,” says Audler. “I’m the food guy, Stephen is all about the company culture and employee training, and Aaron is the numbers guy, handling all the paperwork needed to keep us all on track. We all know our strengths and support each other every day.”
When asked about the story behind the name District Donuts, Sliders and Brew, Audler recalls their conversation about what to call the venture, which harkens back to October 2013, when they opened their first location on Magazine Street near Jackson Avenue in New Orleans. “Our location was on the very edge of the Lower Garden District, a great neighborhood, and the name ‘District’ and the alliteration that fell into place, District Donuts, just felt right,” says Audler.
“We decided on the concept on the cusp of the craft donut breakthrough, but knew we could not support three families on donuts alone, so we grew our offerings to focus on the savory side of the slider, the coffee and the ambiance,” says Audler. The trio found themselves basing their restaurant concept on that of the Tastee Donuts franchise, which served donuts and those memorable square smaller burgers.
And the secret to District’s version? Every hamburger slider is made fresh to order with house-blended Creekstone Black Angus. The team makes everything they can in-house, right down to the pickles, and partners with local farmers and vendors for other staples to support local businesses, much like the Rouses family does in its markets across the South. Everything (except the buns) is homemade.
On The Menu
The delicious flavor of the cheeseburger is all in the preparation, according to Audler. The first thing an employee learns is how to prep the burgers. It’s all about the “packing.” The meat has to be cold, and on their first day employees are trained in how not to overwork the beef in forming the slider-sized squares. The burgers are seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked on a griddle, rather than a grill, to retain as much fat in the burger as possible.
The menu of sliders changes with the seasons. The cheeseburger is a constant, as is the fried chicken version, with other changing offerings such as tofu, BBQ salmon, beef belly with honeyed goat cheese crema, and a shrimp Rangoon with sweet and sour slaw. “It’s all based on market availability,” says Audler. “As long as we can keep things food forward and approachable, in a cool vibe and setting, where our customers can riff on us and we can do the same in return, we’ve achieved our goal.”
That was truly the case on a recent Friday afternoon, when locals and tourists alike were enjoying sliders, donuts and cold brew at the original location, while the staff sang Backstreet Boys songs and danced behind the counter. The vibe was alive and well.
The five District locations — three in New Orleans, one in the Elmwood Business District in Jefferson Parish and the newest in Baton Rouge — all operate under a mother company called TurnChange.
The trio was always in search of a stronger mission, purpose and meaning in their business, and with 140 employees on the payroll today, it’s the mantra and passion that drives their success.
As their mission states, Audler, Vogel and Cali want to “change lives by leading in a way that is life-giving and others-oriented in and amongst their District family first.” They believe healthy colleague relationships create emotionally stable and consistent work contexts, which will lead to lives changed for the better, and they believe that doing so will cause this culture to spill over into the guest experience and the streets and neighborhoods surrounding them.
As for how they keep their business competitive, Audler says that they are their own biggest competitor.
“Our fiercest competitor is ourselves,” he says. “And we support and wish the best for other businesses similar to ours.”