Exploring Minnesota’s Sweet Side

Meet Kara Johnson, the Minnesota elementary school teacher on a quest to visit a new doughnut shop every week

Instead of the usual red apple, a doughnut might be a more fitting gift for this Minnesota elementary school teacher. In November 2020, Kara Johnson of Cambridge embarked on an unexpected odyssey—she set out to try a new doughnut shop every week. What started as a way to support small businesses during the pandemic has turned into a riveting journey that shows no signs of stopping. Almost four years and over 190 doughnut shops later, Johnson continuously finds joy in life’s simplest (and sweetest) pleasures.

This challenge has taken Johnson on a flavorful journey across state lines and beyond. Her quest has led her to redefine her vision of a traditional doughnut, sampling unique flavors from as far as the Caribbean Ocean. She ensures that every vacation includes a doughnut pit stop, and she has embraced doughnuts from other cultures, trying French beignets, Mexican churros, and more.

To get an inside look at Johnson’s sweet adventures, I met her at Luna Donut in Apple Valley. “I usually prefer to try unique flavors or anything the doughnut shop is known for,” Johnson says. At Luna Donut, we tried some of their most popular flavors, including an apple fritter and the ladyfinger, a Long John filled with vanilla cream.

Johnson also makes sure to capture the moment, taking a photo of the doughnut with the company’s storefront sign in the background. This way, her 900-plus Instagram followers can come along on her journey.

Kara Johnson at Luna Donut in Apple Valley
Kara Johnson poses in front of Luna Donut in Apple Valley

Photo by Kara Johnson

“I’m not a food purist,” she says. “Many of the ‘hole in the wall’ doughnut shops have been my favorite. I’ll try gas station doughnuts or fancy doughnuts with gold-leaf garnishes.” Johnson’s openness to all kinds of doughnuts often leads to the tastiest treats and a collection of fun memories.

Johnson’s journey has not been a solo one, however. Her husband, Steve Johnson, and daughter, Carly Johnson, have also been along for the ride. While Steve plans what towns and states their family visits, Kara picks out the doughnut shop, and Carly assists her mom in forming a list of spots to check out in the future. With a spreadsheet complete with every place they have been and where to visit in the future, this doughnut odyssey is a whole family endeavor.

The nearly four-year challenge has led Johnson from quaint small towns to bustling metropolitan cities, allowing her to foster community, support small businesses, and savor some of life’s small pleasures with loved ones. While she’s partial to doughnuts, her advice for others is to find something you enjoy and let that take you on a plethora of fun adventures. And, one doughnut at a time, you might just find yourself embarking on an insatiable quest of your own.

Julia Jacobson is a rising senior at the University of Notre Dame, studying political science and journalism. Outside of her coursework, she participates in her school’s mock trial team and works as a teaching assistant for an introductory political science course. Julia was born and raised in Minnesota, and loves traveling both domestically and internationally. In her free time, she enjoys reading and journaling.