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Ayala Donchin

Ayala Donchin

New York restaurant owner | Founded Evelyn’s Kitchen | Class of 1991

The founder of one of New York City’s most beloved bakeries got her A-list clientele from her three years as a partner in a PR firm on Central Park West.

As for her customer-service savvy, Ayala Donchin (BA ’91) learned just about everything she knows at 710 S. Goodwin Ave. in Urbana.

“In college, I waitressed at Timpone’s and I credit that experience with laying the foundation of my love of great food and great service,” says Donchin, who moved to New York three years after graduating from the UI and opened Evelyn’s Kitchen in East Harlem in 2009.

A self-described “townie” (Urbana High Class of ’87) and full-fledged foodie (she’s had Lil Porgy’s sauce shipped to New York), Donchin entered the workforce earlier than most, launching her first business (Ayala’s Magnificent Mousse & Cheesecake) at age 11, after her parents challenged her to come up with a way to pay for sleepover camp.

Since then, she’s had jobs of all kinds — from working the counter at Dairy Queen on Green Street in high school to being named community-relations director for the New York Knicks in 2000 to her current dream gig: owner and executive chef of an eatery lauded by the Food Network and Cooking Channel, among others.

But never has she had a more demanding — and, as it turns out, impactful — boss than she did at Timpone’s.

Raymond Timpone was a perfectionist and his expectations of his entire team were beyond” anything Donchin has experienced, she says. “But for those who could stick with it, the life lessons from that experience were invaluable.

"And I’m pretty sure I applied some of what I learned to my own cafe in New York.”