Meli Greek Street Donuts brings award-winning international desserts to St. Pete

Meli Greek Street Donuts brings award-winning international desserts to St. Pete

Meli Greek Street Donuts officially makes the best desserts in the entire St. Pete-Tampa area. The dessert purveyors won both the judges and people’s choice awards at Dessert Wars held at The Florida State Fairgrounds.

When Meli Greek Street Donuts owner, Irene Manglis, entered Dessert Wars, she had a horse-trailer food truck and an old family recipe. When she came out, she had a 2nd place people’s choice finish and hundreds of adoring fans.

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The secret to her success? Loukoumades: bite-sized, honey-coated Greek donuts. “”They’re simple and they’re good,” Irene said of her award-winning desserts. “And they’re my Grandma’s recipe. My mom’s been making them since she was seven years old. I grew up around these things.”

Photo via Meli Greek Street Donuts

For the Manglis family, loukoumades are a cultural staple. Irene describes them as the “Greek version of the American glazed donut,” but covered in honey and cinnamon. In 2017, while consuming a fresh batch, the family joked about “how great it would be” if they could have loukoumades “all the time.” In 2020, Irene bought a silver trailer and set out to make that dream a reality. By fall of 2021, she was on the Dessert Wars podium.

Today, in 2022, I finally had a chance to visit that small, silver trailer—and to talk with Irene herself.

Bringing “Grandma’s” Greek donuts to the ‘Burg

The Meli Greek Street Donut truck was set up on the west side of Corey Avenue when I found it. Pop music and a scent reminiscent of funnel cake drifted through its open doors. Behind the service window, Irene maneuvered through stoves and friers with a confidence that far outsized the trailer’s confines.

After serving a few customers, Irene pulled out two generators from beneath Meli’s front wheels. We used these as makeshift chairs while she gave me the full rundown of how her business came to be.

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“In America,” she told me, “You can only find loukoumades at Greek festivals or church events. I wanted to change that so people could have Greek donuts all the time.”

Recognizing an opportunity in the marketplace, Irene and her mom began to play with the idea of having a loukoumades-selling business. In winter 2020, however, Irene grew tired of this idea being “all talk,” and made the bold move to purchase a trailer, thus formally marking the birth of Meli Greek Street Donuts. Her first pop-up appearance was at a market that same year, which she recalls going pretty well.

Photo via Meli Greek Street Donuts

From humble beginnings to critical acclaim

In the beginning, Meli’s customer base was made up of hungry locals who, after trying loukoumades, became dedicated regulars. As word began to spread about the truck, however, this group of fans grew to include foodies who would actively track the trailer’s location through social media, as well as some occasional influencers.

Meli’s months of steady growth continued into 2021 until it hit its tipping point; the aforementioned Dessert Wars competition.

“It was crazy,” Irene said of the event. “There was a stage in the middle of the room and the line for my loukoumades was wrapping all the way around it.”

She went on to explain that there were over 1800 guests in attendance that day. Each was permitted a single vote for their favorite dessert. After all the ballots had been cast, Irene walked away with a 2nd place finish—and the affirmation that her desserts really were that good.

“That day made me believe in myself,” Irene said. “And, if my story can inspire anyone, it’s to just believe that you can.”

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Photo via Meli Greek Street Donuts

The menu

After Irene was done tugging on my heart strings, she tucked our generator seats back under the trailer and led me around the front of the truck. Next to the service window hung a chalkboard menu that listed eight different varieties of loukoumades (four mainstays and four specials). Irene pointed to it and asked me which ones I wanted. I said, “uhhhhhh……………,” and then bit my lip for a good two minutes.

Turns out that was the right answer, because she ended up making me five.

Here’s what I tried:

  • “Classic Kanella” – Irene’s version of “traditional” loukoumades made from her grandma’s secret recipe. Simple and light, these munchkin-sized donuts come coated in honey and cinnamon.
  • “Poli Oreo” – Rich, hot balls of dough rolled in crushed cookie dust and house-made “Oreo sauce.”
  • “The Boston Boozy” – An innovative play on the Boston cream donut, these loukoumades are stuffed with Bailey’s-infused custard and topped with Irish whipped crème and melted chocolate.
  • “I’m Berry Stuffed” – A monthly special stuffed with strawberry cheesecake and finished with whipped cream and berries.
  • “Let’s Get Fluffy” – A judges’ favorite from Dessert Wars, this once-monthly special has been slowly sneaking its way onto the main menu. The appeal? Cinnamon toast crunch dust, a white chocolate drizzle, and local honey fluff.

Fresh, hot loukoumades

Photo via Meli Greek Donuts

Ready to try some fresh, hot loukoumades? Locating Meli Greek Street Donuts is easy. The truck’s monthly schedule is available on both Facebook and Instagram.

Deciding which ones to order, though, isn’t quite as simple. So, when you find yourself staring at Meli’s chalkboard menu in a perpetual state of “uhhhh…..,” just do what I did and order five.

Dessert people are happier, anyways.

To stay up to date with Meli Greek Street Donuts’ current schedule and menu offerings, foodies can follow the truck on social media.

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