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First Look: Donut Bar Opens in Downtown

The social media sugar sensation opened a new flagship location with much more than donuts
Interior of Donut Bar's new downtown location opened in 2024 featuring a glass display full of donuts and pastries

A former professional motorcycle racer opens a donut shop that becomes a viral sensation. Then, he decides to write a children’s cookbook and move his empire into a new space that features an augmented reality (AR) experience, along with Fruity Pebble-flavored milk, Champagne, cakes, Danishes, bread, and, of course, plenty of donuts.

Mad Libs? Stream of consciousness? No, it’s Santiago Campa’s business plan for Donut Bar’s new flagship location at 1 Columbia Place, which officially opens Friday, April 5. 

The original Donut Bar at 631 B Street has been a downtown icon for 11 years but lacked space and an efficient layout. Now, he has both, working with developer Regent Properties to create the donut paradise he’d always dreamed of, along with Orness Design Group (LaFayette Hotel, Animae, Jeune et Jolie), who designed the kitchen. 

Courtesy of Donut Bar

With 3,000 square feet of usable space, it means an oversized kitchen, food displays, a double Blodgett Zephaire oven, two-story patios, and multiple bars for bubbles, beans, and brews. And, it means he can make more—a lot more. 

“[Finally], I’m able to bring everything that I’ve perfected and known for years but just didn’t have the actual kitchen space to do,” he says. It will be more than donuts—cinnamon rolls, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, and gluten-free treats

While he’s excited about expanding the menu, he’s practically drooling over his next foray into social media superstardom—augmented reality.

Augmented reality (AR) melds real life with the digital world. (Pokémon GO is a good example.) For the new Donut Bar, Campa enlisted artist Dana Scott Owens (a.k.a DanaToon) to create an immersive experience where guests can scan a QR code with their smartphone and scan the room to discover “living art,” as Campa describes it.

Donut Bar's new downtown San Diego location featuring an assortment of colorful, decorated donuts on display
Courtesy of Donut Bar

“It’s all going to come to life. You’re going to see Petco Park, in full color with a baseball flying out and across the room,” he explains. “You’re going to see the Midway, but unlike you’ve ever seen it before—with jets flying off of it.” 

The Hotel Del Coronado will showcase its iconic decor and ice skaters during the holidays. You’ll be able to see performers onstage at The Rady Shell. It’s half interactive art exhibit, half tourism guide, and a dash of cheeky self-promotion that shows Campa still knows precisely how to play the social media game (people can take their picture with a virtual chef Campa as he throws sprinkles in the air). 

Campa says he took design notes from Las Vegas casinos, where strategic nudges in decor subtly guide patrons’ eyes to exactly where the house wants them to go. To ensure guests engage with the space, he says everything is designed with a 2-D black-and-white comic book aesthetic, with all the color coming from the baked goods themselves or the AR experience. People already take pictures of their food, Campa says. Why not curate the experience that much more?

Campa and Owens also collaborated on a children’s book recently entitled How To Make A Donut. Two versions will be available at the new location: one in black and white that children can color in themselves and a full-color version. 

Donut Bar’s B Street location will remain open until 1 Columbia Place opens to avoid service interruption. Space limitations at the original location meant he had to finish “one masterful bake” every morning, and when the donuts were gone, that was it. An expanded kitchen means “I’m going to be pumping out donuts all morning long,” he says. “When I pull out these donuts fresh out of the fryer, with glaze dripping, it’s going to be insane.”

By Beth Demmon

Beth Demmon is an award-winning writer and podcaster whose work regularly appears in national outlets and San Diego Magazine. Her first book, The Beer Lover's Guide to Cider, is now available. Find out more on

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