In Defense of Voodoo Doughnut
I was once like you. I, too, used to laugh when I saw tourists in Old Town carrying pink boxes. “Not real Portlanders,” I would say. But sometime around 2012, the pendulum swung too far, and now Voodoo Doughnut has joined the MAC Club, McMenamins, and the LA Lakers as target practice for the city’s disdain. But what if Voodoo isn’t the problem? What if you’re the problem?
I remember back in high school when the Voodoo hype began. All sorts of rumored half-truths swirled around the city. “They have Swahili lessons in the back room.” “There’s a chaplain on call that will legally marry you.” “You can order a cough syrup donut that gets you high.” The whole thing was an exercise in guerilla marketing that just wouldn’t happen in today’s world of humblebragging Yelp snobs in a constant search for authenticity, whatever that is.
Bring up Voodoo nowadays? Portland people will roll their eyes. “It’s for tourists,” they’ll scoff. “Blue Star is so much better,” they’ll say.
Well, I’ve been to Blue Star, and wow, do they take themselves seriously. Blue Star’s website brags: “our donuts are made from a classic brioche recipe that originated in the south of France.” And you know it’s fancy because they say “south of France” instead of just “southern France.” Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize we were dealing with the French Laundry of donuts. Damn, do y’all take reservations? What’s the dress code?
By the time I finally tried Blue Star I was expecting it to hop off the wax paper and start paying my student loans. Turns out it was just a donut.
A donut is a donut. Stop acting like your recipes were acquired from a thick-accented grandmother on her deathbed who devoted her life to crafting the perfect donut, as though she smuggled notes out from a war-torn dictatorship, coming to this country with no money, only dreams that one day a donut shop serving her creations would open on a recently gentrified street.
Guess what: donuts are just fried dough with sugar. Sometimes they have sprinkles.
People in Portland look down on Voodoo for the same reason they look down on Beaverton: they’re just making conversation. Most donuts at Voodoo are between $1 to $2. Can you even get a cup of coffee in Portland now for that? A dollar for a donut isn’t bad, even if it is a little stale. When people talk about how much better Blue Star is than Voodoo, all I hear is “I can afford to spend $30 on a dozen donuts, so I’m very important, AS YOU CAN TELL.” It’s the Portland version of wearing a chinchilla coat, or carrying a tiny dog around in a $900 purse.
Without Voodoo, Blue Star wouldn’t exist. Blue Star was a reaction to Voodoo. Voodoo is the neighborhood coffeeshop with the funky bathroom that lets employees pick the music. Blue Star is the cafe that opens up across the street that is cleaner, but charges three times as much and only plays Modest Mouse. There’s room for both places, but let’s not slander the one that was there first.
Portland isn’t the biggest city, the most historical city, or the best weather city. If it isn’t quirky donuts that we promote, what’s it gonna be? You think Seattle people actually like the Space Needle? Hell no. It looks like a giant alien dick. But you’ve got to hand it to them, they put that alien dick on t-shirts, aprons, and frisbees and sell it year round. Voodoo has become a Portland institution, and it’s time to accept it. What is civic pride if not the ability to look out-of-towners directly in the eye and say “you should buy this stupid bullshit.” It’s your duty as a Portlander. Stop being selfish. Get out there and support the economy!
With every trendy new restaurant, we now know what to expect: sterile minimalist furniture, a press release on Eater, and a logo in the same font as the ten other places on that block that hired the same design firm. You can say a lot of things about Voodoo, but they aren’t derivative. Unless I’m missing something, Voodoo was definitely the first place ever to hang its hat on dick donuts.
If you walk past Voodoo during tourist season, you’ll see people smiling, Instagramming, having a great time. They’re eating donuts, what’s not fun about that? But you, in your ivory donut tower, want to squash all that. Why? Because it’s not up to the standards of your distinguishing donut palate? Why do you hate fun?
Maybe next time your out-of-town friend suggests going to Voodoo, you hold your tongue. Maybe instead, you let them have their moment. Maybe you go wait in that stupid line in Old Town, buy a stale donut with cereal on it, look at your friend, and say “This is great, isn’t it? Please don’t move here.”