Big Bears Donuts


In just a few short years, Big Bears Donuts has become one of Lakes Entrance’s most iconic retail destinations.

Rain, hail or shine, on almost any day of the week you can expect to see a line of devoted customers outside the Big Bears shopfront on the Esplanade, many of which have travelled for hours for their Original Glaze, Vanilla Slice or Homer Simpson Donuts.

“They come from all over,” said Ewan Fotheringham, who founded Big Bears Donuts out of a food van back in 2019. “We’ve had people from all through the valley, from Melbourne.

I’ve seen them standing eight or 10 deep in the freezing rain. The other day we had a couple of blokes on motorbikes who rode from Essendon, just for the donuts.”

Ewan’s career pathway to this point is unorthodox - concrete plant manager turned commercial fisherman turned donut maker.

But the inspiration behind Big Bears Donuts is old school.

When changes to the fishing industry forced Ewan to find a new living, it was an idyllic childhood memory that sparked in him a most unexpected entrepreneurial turn.

“When I was a kid growing up in Bendigo, my dad used to take me on Sundays to this hot jam donut van at Lake Weeroona,” Ewan said. “I remember it so clearly, the smell, everything. Thirty-plus years later, it’s still there, still making hot jam donuts. The locals love it, and people come from all over. That’s where I got the idea for a donut van.”

Ewan’s approach was simple, and immediately made for good business - make great donuts by putting in a lot of time and effort into the process.

Big Bears became a local cult hit and fairly quickly outgrew the donut van. Ewan established the Esplanade shopfront in April 2021, and now employs 12 locals.

That this growth came during pandemic years of lockdown and visitor downturn in a heavily tourist-dependent market is all the more remarkable, and demonstrates Big Bears’ ability to maintain a loyal customer base in all seasons.

The COVID pandemic impressed upon Ewan the necessity of being flexible and creative in order to ride out unexpected changes in the market.

“The reality is now that you need to be able to diversify, to pivot,” he says.

Like the best entrepreneurs, Ewan is constantly looking at opportunities to bolster his market and create sustainable conditions for growth.

One of the challenges he sees about operating in Lakes Entrance is the boom and bust nature of summer tourism, and he’s soon to launch a new arm of the business to maintain sales when the Esplanade is quiet - a mobile Big Bears shop.

“The idea of the mobile shop is to keep staff employed all winter long,” he said. “We want to be busy all the time. If our customers can’t come to Lakes, we’ll come to them.”
Wednesday to Friday the mobile shop will hit the road and serve population centres like Bairnsdale, Sale and Traralgon, and then chase the markets on the weekend.

It’s an evolution of Ewan’s current winter strategy, where he partners with community organisations like sporting clubs and kindergartens for donut fundraisers.

“We take the orders online, make them all up at the shop and then go down to Woodside or Toongabbie or wherever,” he said. “It’s good to be able to give back to the community, and it’s good for us, too. It keeps our kitchen busy and keeps us making donuts.”

This collaborative, adventurous spirit is something Ewan hopes to see more of in East Gippsland.

With new events being added to the local calendar every year, he sees great opportunity in local businesses connecting with tourism activities to make sure everyone can benefit when large groups of people roll into town.

“I think there needs to be a greater level of collaboration between the organisers of these events and local businesses,” he said. “I’d like to see the whole community work together so that everyone in town can benefit from the opportunities these events create.”

Learn more about Ewan and Big Bears Donuts by following them on Facebook at

"The reality is now that you need to be able to diversify." Big Bears Donuts founder Ewan Fotheringham. Photo courtesy @GippslandJersey