Sydney Brazil sells the hole truth and nothing but
By Dwain Hebda
The most surprising thing about The Hole Thing founder Sydney Brazil isn’t being a successful business owner at the tender age of 16, although that does grab one’s attention.
The most startling thing about the North Little Rock native and eStem High School junior is that she never considered business ownership prior to launching her donut hole bakery. Her selection to her school’s Noble Impact program, a nonprofit organization that engages students in public service through entrepreneurship in partnership with the Clinton School of Public Service, changed all that.
“Honestly, school is something that is really important to me so when I was selected I wanted to be the best I could,” she says. “What I found out was entrepreneurship was more than just about business, I was really about finding something to be passionate about.”
Once she had set her mind in entrepreneur mode, the nature of her endeavor was not far behind. While the food business is notoriously competitive, Brazil was undeterred, convinced that even as donut shops continued to proliferate, few of them elevated the donut hole to its rightful place.
Brazil’s obsession with the ping pong ball-sized treats seems to know no bounds. The Hole Thing’s menu lists nearly 20 gourmet varieties of the treats and she encourages visitors to the bakery’s website to suggest even more. She haunts local donut shops for inspiration and to broaden her already considerable knowledge of the pint-sized pastry. If wine has its cork dorks and technology has its computer nerds, then Brazil is the donut hole world’s equivalent—a hole mole perhaps, a spherical savant. Glazed and enthused.
“I’m a really firm believer in being passionate about what you’re doing,” she says. “I got into this thinking even if it doesn’t last a really long time, it’s something I can be proud and honored to do.”
Brazil’s passion for the business, the plan for which she concocted with eStem classmate Jase Burton, helped propel the venture to third place in the 2014 Y.E.S. 2.0 (Youth Entrepreneur Showcase) competition’s best business plan category. Y.E.S. 2.0, open to students in grades 9 through 12, and its companion Y.E.S., open to students in grades 5 through 8, encourages young people’s entrepreneurial efforts. From there, she’s worked hard to bring her prize-winning plan to life.
“Before Y.E.S. 2.0, Sydney did not have a background in business,” says Marie Bruno, executive director of Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation, which sponsors the competitions. “Now, she has a formal business plan that has permanence and can be refined and built upon as she moves forward. Sydney added that the plan is always there to help her remember the original vision for the company.”
There have been other reminders that The Hole Thing has moved well off the drawing board and into the real world of business. Brazil, daughter of Renea and Ken Brazil and older sister to Kenny, calls the myriad paperwork that comes with running a company the hardest thing to get used to.
“Now that I’m legally registered with the state I have all of this stuff that needs to be turned in,” she says. “When I started, I spent a lot of my time just using my own money to buy things and making holes for whoever and just getting very good at my craft. Now, I have to turn in legal things, making sure everything’s documented. That was the hardest thing for me. It’s easier for me to do things on a whim versus actually documenting that process.”
The Hole Thing has benefited from a ream of local press and recently got another big boost when Brazil entered into an arrangement with Little Rock’s Copper Grill. The deal puts the company’s donut holes on the restaurant’s dessert menu, plus allows her to have business cards and signage on premises and use Copper Grill’s kitchen to fill her growing catering orders. She said the arrangement is an example of how the “grown up” business community has embraced her.
“Honestly, what surprised me the most was that the adults who I’ve come in contact with and been involved with take me more seriously than other high school students,” she says. “You know, when you look at getting into college or with other activities there’s a lot of competition and so it’s easier for you to look at a peer and feel threatened by their success versus an adult who’s looking at it more as a mentorship opportunity.”
The growth of her business aside, Brazil finds time for other interests as well. She’s involved with competitive dance and is a self-described Netflix junkie. As well, she’s recently been collaborating with Burton on a young entrepreneur’s podcast, (Noble) Impact on Air. The Hole Thing hasn’t quite reached the level of hiring her first employee, but she does get a boost from extra hands here and there.
“I get a lot of friends to help me out just by promising to give them free donut holes,” she says.