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On the corner of Illinois & University in North Park, amongst the haven of eclectic shops and diverse eateries, lies a gem that has not just crafted gourmet donuts & bagels, but woven itself into the fabric of the community – Nomad Donuts. Brad Keiller, the co-owner of Nomad Donuts, is a person with a story as diverse as the flavors he crafts in his shop. This month, North Park Main Street had an opportunity to speak with Brad about his story and the journey Nomads Donuts is on.

A Story of Immigrant Roots and Entrepreneurial Spirit

Born in Canada to South African parents, Brad’s identity is rooted in his immigrant heritage. His upbringing embodies a fusion of cultures and values. “I’m an immigrant kid. That makes up a lot of who I am,” Brad reflects. His journey from the far North found him setting up home in San Diego where friendship, great timing, and sunshine pulled him in. Now, as of this year, Brad has made the next move and lives in Tijuana. He is a full-time international commuter and is enjoying the new found balance.

Through his experiences in life and business, Brad has found his center by embracing the Japanese principle of continuous improvement, Kaizen. He is an achiever and is able to conquer many professional and personal mountains. So in 2014, just like everyone thought, he swapped his position as a Regional VP of a software startup for one as a Co-founder of a gourmet donut shop.


Surfing to New Heights

This story gets going at Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant, where Brad was a regular and he met a new bartender named Cameron. As we all do with bartenders at our regular haunts, they chatted. Talking led to camaraderie and camaraderie led to surfing sessions. “We were out surfing, it was kind of slow and we were just chatting when I asked him, what do you want to do with your life?” recalls Brad. “You have to remember he like he’s 26 or 28 and I’m in my forties at this point. Cameron immediately says ‘I want to own a gourmet donut shop.’” Cameron’s aspiration wasn’t merely to create a donut shop; it was to carve a space where memories were made, akin to his nostalgic memories of visiting a local donut shop with his grandfather.

At this point, Brad had been grinding away as a VP of sales and this idea started to take a hold on him. “I really just came in to help him write the business plan and then I liked the business plan, so I became the investor.” A chuckling Brad recalls, “My accountant was freaking out at me. He’s like, you cannot give this 20-something-year-old kid all this money. So I asked Tony (my accountant), what do you want?” Tony’s answer was pretty straightforward, ‘be involved.” Those two conversations sealed Brad’s transition into the world of donuts.

The inception story of Nomad Donuts might seem whimsical – a casual conversation during a surfing session led to the idea. Brad’s willingness to jump into a new venture while transitioning from a high-stress corporate role showcased a unique blend of audacity and adaptability.


Donut Give Up

The birth of Nomad Donuts (2014) wasn’t a smooth sailing. Early days were engulfed in relentless toil, with Brad clocking in marathon hours, juggling roles from donut fryer to front counter attendant. “In the beginning, we’d work 70 to 80 hours a week,” Brad reminisces, acknowledging the rollercoaster ride of establishing a thriving business.

The shop’s popularity presented challenges as they navigated having to manage a completely new business with high demand. “New shops often get to test out and adjust things, but we just hired our one pastry chef and it’s no longer enough.” Part of their success lies in how they prioritize quality handmade food. That is underscored when you ask what other shops they are influenced by. While Brad appreciates what Voodoo Donuts has brought to the world, they modeled their operations and mission after San Fran’s Dynamo.

The shop on 30th Street was booming and nestled between soon-to-be neighborhood favorites, Fall Brewing & Ono Grinds. However, the team realized that they needed a bigger, more accessible space. This led them to move into the spot formerly held by the Lady of the Lake bookstore on Illinois Street. The new space has offered them a chance to expand their menu to include the now-famous bagels.

The larger space and larger menu has allowed Nomads to evolve with the times and Brad sees a future where this could operate more as a dine-in location with more community events.

North Park – A Community That Donut Let You Down

North Park, with its vibrant energy and evolving landscape, became the community canvas for Nomad’s tale. Brad witnessed the neighborhood’s transformation firsthand. “You had that vibe,” he reminisces. “But it was uncomfortable like you were part of gentrification.”

Brad acknowledges the neighborhood’s changing landscape, both appreciating its growth while cautiously acknowledging the gentrification’s implications. In Nomad’s time here, they got to be a part of the neighborhood’s evolution from rough terrain to a burgeoning hub of creativity and community gathering spots. “I remember the Union bank on the corner, which used to close early in winter because people were getting robbed,” said Brad, “but I also remember the fun parts like Urban Solace, Bar Pink, and the community.”

Through all of the changes, the community is one constant. “It’s a community that supports and it supports anything if they like what you are doing and your stance as a person.”

A testament to this is the unforgettable saga involving Brad and Ray, a homeless North Park resident. You can read more about Brad’s well-documented act of compassion, but in short, a single Yelp review decrying Ray’s presence snowballed into a viral moment. The outcry and response showcased the power of community solidarity. Customers, neighbors, and supporters rallied, around an incident and issue that is greater than donuts and bagels. All of this happened against the backdrop of tough times at Nomad, which made the community support and appreciation for Brad that much sweeter.

Great community experiences come in both big and small actions. Another one of Brad’s favorite memories involves a running club’s frequent visits to Nomad. He was able to connect these runners and create a relationship over food. Eventually, this led to a new donut creation for the organizer Jessica, a haupia-filled donut (Hawaiian coconut pudding). It’s easy to see that Brad feels impacted by both events and the relationships he was able to create as a part of Nomads.




Donut Count Out Today

As Nomad Donuts celebrates nearly a decade of existence, Brad’s vision extends beyond just a successful business. “Nomad’s fate is unforeseeable, yet we continue to aspire toward an employee-owned structure,” Brad shares, encapsulating his vision for a sustainable legacy, a testament to his commitment to fostering a communal legacy beyond personal pursuits.

However, Brad admits to the unpredictable nature of small businesses. The transient nature of success and the looming uncertainties remind him that despite milestones, the future remains open-ended. Brad maintains a balanced and Zen-like approach, planning for the future, but taking time to enjoy today. So next time your are in North Park, stop by Nomads’ Donuts to get a taste of today.



Bonus from Brad:

Q: What is your favorite part or hidden gem of North Park?

A: I love to run at Morley Field. It’s just a little weird, there’s nothing there really, and that’s the beauty of it.