Josh Levine is an Oakland staple and a man about town. He has a storied past, from youth spent running amok in the Tenderloin of SF to playing with FLIPPER and the INSAINTS to creating magical organic vegan donuts since 2008, with flavors such as salted caramel (my favorite), lavender, and green tea matcha. I take everyone to Pepples Donut Farm to eat, especially out-of-towners and touring bands. Pepples serves delicious and creative vegan food and you can find their donuts all over the Bay Area (with locations expanding). If you’re into conscious consumerism, avoiding GMOs and being a part of the solution, then you’ll probably dig his joint. Here is Josh of Pepples Donut Farm…
What are you, a pamphlet? Do you not know that eating animal products is bad for you, the animals and the dirt? I thought you were punk. You have to care about dirt. And because that’s how donuts should be — they’re the best clean food for people to eat.
I dunno what doughnuts are, but are you asking me about donuts? Because vegan donuts are my favorite oxymoron. Because vegan donuts are distilled anarchism. It’s because vegan donuts are a pure expression of the connection of the spirit and the body. Just like fuckin’ yoga. My vegan donuts arose out of the fundamental disharmony between the individual’s search for meaning and the meaninglessness of the universe. It’s a part of my quest toward understanding all that is the “I am.” And stuff that’s fried tastes good, everybody agrees on that. Donuts are the vehicle and we are the drivers. Every one of us. Let’s go!
Tell us about your donuts.
They are all organic ingredients and tasty. We really nailed tasty. They are also made with organic fruit and interesting ingredients that add to the good flavor of the donut. We make cake donuts and raised donuts, like jelly donuts or twists and fritters such as apple, banana and kabocha. Yummy vegan donuts.
What would a “Tim Yo” donut taste like?
It would be like a sour apple glaze, maybe kinda salty.
I’d imagine a little bitter too, maybe slightly crunchy like a communist? So, you’re old, did you know Tim Yo?
Know Tim Yo? Well, yes. We were friends…almost. I saw him at shows when he moved here or whatever… He dosed me one time at a party at the New Method warehouse. I’ll never forget that. He was a part of the scene and I knew him for years and years. Later, he dated my bandmate Marion from the INSAINTS. He was always a fair man, had a great sense of humor, and always knew about the cool political stuff I never took the time to learn. One time he called me a hippie at a Gilman Street Project meeting. He said, “Josh, quit talking like a fucking hippie,” and I will never forget the look of disappointment and annoyance on his face that day. I worked on making Gilman Street because I was inspired by his vision and leadership. Good times, but you can read about that in the 924 Gilman book.
Hey old man, tell us some more stories! You were in FLIPPER? Tell us more.
I used to get on stage with FLIPPER in ’78. For a few years I would play bass, do a couple songs. Kind of like being in the band. I roadied for Hüsker Dü once in 1980. Shows were great in the ’70s/early ’80s — sucks for you young kids today, ha ha ha. Then we did a FLIPPER reunion. Basically, I was in a bunch of bands because I play bass. I also played with the INSAINTS, NO ALTERNATIVE, SO WHAT, SUMMERS EVE, FANG, POOR IMPULSE CONTROL and WHAT WENT WRONG. I’m OK at bass, I guess.
Back to Pepples, why is it called a “farm”? Wait, why is it called Pepples?
Because it’s where we “grow all the donuts” so it’s a donut Farm. At first it was Peoples Donuts. Then I got tired of that, there were tons of peoples this, peoples that — so I changed it to Pepples. Fuck branding, right? Anti-marketing! We really are still confusing people. Fuck advertising too, while you are at it. They are donuts not corporate GMO shills. You donut need a name or brand when you have a donut. We are changing the name again soon. Maybe to Paul or Robert.
Do you have a lot of punks working for you? Eating your donuts?
Many punks, famous and nobodies and everybody in between, have worked for me — exes, friends, strangers and punks galore. We even went through a hippie phase.
Great way to lose friends is by having them work for you. Luckily, I have a lot of friends. I have a joke I like to tease punks at the shop with — sometimes I’ll say, “Punks pay double,” and I’ll look at them all serious. They think it’s hilarious when they realize I’m joking. But the donuts have universal appeal, I see all kinds of folks picking up a box at our shops. We donut discriminate.
How did you become a restaurant versus just a mere donut farm?
The Donut Farm is a restaurant so it seemed dumb not to make food. When we started it was me and a buddy cooking brunch, I used to make all the food and roast all the coffee in a wok. It was crazy good times. Somehow we got through the rough patch and now it runs pretty well.
Who do you let vend your donuts all over the Bay Area?
They are sold by some cool coffee shops, friends, and at Rainbow Grocery. There is some out-of-date info on our crappy website. We are pretty much at capacity with all that.
Is Pepples still DIY or are you going to sell out soon?
We are DIY all the way. Just people making real stuff for real people to eat. It’s highly unlikely that I will sell out. How much do you have? My two sons will probably keep it going when I’m too old to work the fryer. And if by “sell out” you mean “come out” — I did that years ago.
What are your next plans? I know you recently extended your restaurant hours.
We are trying to figure out what to focus on. We have a new bakery line making muffins, scones, tarts and yam rolls that are all vegan and organic. That and expanding our manufacturing base to add one in a different part of the state. More donut punks! There is a lot going on.
Any last words, Josh?
I am grateful to be asked for an interview, thank you. 2014 was an interesting year for us with business growth, and I am grateful for all of my friends and employees as well as those who have helped me every step of the way from our humble beginnings in the back of Eclair Bakery in Berkeley paying $10 an hour to use the donut fryer until now. Our tremendous successes are only due to all of the people whose love and contributions created them (am I talking like a hippie?).
Also, I want to take a paragraph urge everyone to pay more attention to the sources of your food. There is a good amount of manipulation going on. Green-washing. You think it’s OK, but it’s not the very stuff you think you are avoiding is being shoved down your throat in broad daylight by the corporations that run the food industry. They are really sneaky, so get informed — because the government won’t protect you, and Whole Paycheck won’t protect you. In Europe, most of these toxic foods are banned, but in the USA a battle is being fought on your plate every day. So, eat consciously and remember your dollar is your vote, so donut vote for that crap!