Our Donut Shop

NOTE: I've chosen the colloquial “donut” over the more grammatically accepted “doughnut.” I hope this decision does not prevent you from enjoying the following piece.

My first year in Portland, I couldn’t find a donut shop. I knew there were shops somewhere. I kept seeing donuts in grocery stores, and I didn’t think the stores had a donut specialist on payroll. Sure, if I wanted to drive to the suburbs and sit for 30 minutes in Krispy Kreme’s drive-thru line, I could have done so. And if I wanted to head downtown and stand in a similarly long line to buy a donut shaped like a penis and covered in breakfast cereal, I could have done that too.

I wanted a donut shop that reminded me of the East Coast shops I grew up with—and not the chains with the words “Dunkin’” or “Mister” in the names. I wanted the mom-and-pop donut shop sandwiched between the windshield repair center and the dilapidated convenience store, the one you happen upon by accident and quickly fall in love.

Growing up, donuts were as ingrained in my Sunday reality as afternoon baseball in the summer. As ingrained as combing my hair and making it to noon mass five minutes late. In fact, if I had to sum up my childhood in three words, it would be: Sports, Donuts, Church.

As time has passed, I’ve moved slightly away from sports, and completely away from church, but as for donuts—the gooey middle of my personal trinity—I still seek them out.

Donuts exist for me in the present and in the past, similar to the way we return to brands on account of a specific loyalty that, in the end, is less temporal than it is ephemeral—the inexplicable, unexplainable sweetness that wells up inside us almost on its own.

Say the word “donut” and it’s the late 1980s. My father walks into the house on a Sunday morning, a brisk chill coming in before the door closes, his eyeglasses slightly fogged from the change in temperature. A warmth comes from the waxed cardboard tray—not a box, but a tray—filled with at least two of every type of sweet pastry you can imagine, enough to feed his three sons (with a few left over for our parents, of course). And not just donuts in the tray, but bagels, Danish, even a couple of croissants—all sorts of heart cloggers. But hell, we knew we’d run it off later playing any one of America’s then three big sports, and if that didn’t save us, we’d ask God to keep an eye on our arteries.

Say the word “donut” again and I swing back to Portland, present day. Maybe it’s all the East Coasters who have relocated in the past 13 years, but if you know where to look, you’ll find a donut shop—on every end of the spectrum too.

There’s the quaint, boutique shop where you can’t find a seat, but they make your donuts to order and you get to watch. There’s the crappy, “How is this place in business” shop that doesn’t open until midnight and the employees hate you for being there. There’s the “tragically hip” shop complete with mantra and mission statement where the “select” varieties go for $4.00 a pop—the shop I recently visited.

My wife isn’t the world’s biggest fan of donuts. She supports my love of them, but since this love now includes bringing donuts home for our daughter, Mommy likes to exact a certain level of control. And the other day she asked that I stop bringing home donuts from "our donut shop” as my daughter and I call it, and try the new hip shop where things are, in her mind, better. After all, a donut is a donut, right? Just don’t tell that to my wallet when the donut-arista rings me up.

I’m not just paying for the donuts at the well-branded donut shop. I’m paying for the brand—its sharp logo to the framed mantra statement, to the rents on their locations in some of Portland’s hipper haunts.

I understand the game. But at four-and-a-half years old, our daughter simply understands donuts.

To my daughter, the brand isn’t the brand—the DONUT is the brand.

And so, with our four fancy, overpriced donuts in front of us, steam rising from my coffee, the first half of her first donut disappears quickly, eight of her greasy fingers jammed in her mouth. She looks up from her plate.

“Daddy?”

“Yes?”

“I like our donuts better.”

“Me too.”

“Can we go to our donut shop next time?”