It Took More Than Biscuits and Donuts to Make Rise the Triangle's Fastest Growing Food Empire | Food Feature | Indy Week
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It Took More Than Biscuits and Donuts to Make Rise the Triangle's Fastest Growing Food Empire 

The wall of Rise's new downtown Durham store

Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

The wall of Rise's new downtown Durham store

The wall of Rise's new downtown Durham store

If you show up at Rise Biscuits & Donuts at four o'clock on a Friday morning, you're already running four hours behind Bethany Conver.

The baker has been at the Rise near Durham's Southpoint Mall—the flagship operation of a suddenly sprawling local franchise, with big plans to go national within the next year—since midnight, starting by herself the process that will yield a day's worth of donuts. The approaching weekend always means big biscuit-and-donut business, she says, so this will be a busy day. From Thursday through Sunday, this is Conver's life.

Want a Biscuit?

At each Rise location, each chef is empowered to make menu decisions, a fundamental principle meant to keep the franchise from getting boring as it expands. At the Big Biscuit Brew Ha-Ha, a fund-raiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, that idea will take center stage. Each of Rise's six current Triangle locations will present its best biscuit, created in collaboration with top-notch Triangle chefs, such as Bill Smith and Ashley Christensen. And the kitchen pairs each biscuit with a beer from one of six local breweries. Customers vote to determine which of the Rise teams has risen highest.

The Rickhouse, Durham

Thursday, April 7, 6–9 p.m., $35,

At this early hour, the compact kitchen is chilly, and it smells mostly of grease and sugar. Conver's daily ritual is methodical, maybe even rote, but it's not light work. To make a massive batch of apple fritters, for instance, she wraps large chunks of chopped apples and multiple dollops of cinnamon into a swath of thick dough. She wields her pastry cutter like an ax, each blow landing with a thud and separating the start of one fritter from the rest. Bethany folds the dough and repeats, manually blending the pastry each time.

The donuts are proofed, or allowed to rise, one final time before they're fried, glazed, and iced. Conver glazes them when they emerge from the fryer, using a slotted stainless-steel glazing table that allows several donuts to get their sugary shell at once.

Just after four, Conver begins to get backup. First, a lone decorator arrives to fill, ice, and sprinkle donuts for hours. The rest of the crew—responsible for making biscuits, running the registers, making sure the restaurant is ready to serve—arrives around six a.m., an hour before the doors open. And when they do, more often than not, a few customers are already queued up outside.

Those lines, it seems, are starting to show up everywhere, just like Rise. In the four years since Rise opened this single storefront near Southpoint, the business has grown from one location to a string of seven stores across the Triangle—two in Durham, two in Raleigh (with a third coming at the end of May), and one each in Morrisville and Carrboro. Rise is expanding throughout and beyond North Carolina, too, with twenty-three franchises already sold from Wilmington and Charlotte to as far away as Dallas.

And Rise is now moving beyond its reputation as a breakfast emporium: the new downtown Durham location offers lunchtime biscuits, with flavors including a version of Nashville hot chicken, a pork chop biscuit, and even a sloppy joe.

Really, Rise was built to rise.

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