Oregon’s beloved alterna-doughnut empire, best known for wacky flavors and its funky pink décor, will soon bring their unique blend of blood, sugar, sex and magic to a new store in Denver, Colorado -- the first Voodoo Doughnut location outside of the Beaver State, which boasts two shops in Portland and one in Eugene. So Coloradoans high on legal weed can look forward to an eclectic menu featuring raspberry “blood” filled voodoo dolls, pentagrams drawn in sugary icing, erotic “cock-and-balls” doughnuts, and iconic pink boxes emblazoned with the company's provocative slogan: “The magic is in the hole.”
“We’re branding and expanding” as co-founder Kenneth "Cat Daddy" Pogson puts it. “But at the same time, we want to keep it small, to keep it special. It’s hard to keep the ‘cool factor’ with 400 locations.”
Pogson and his business partner, Tres Shannon, are committed to maintaining the artisanal weirdo vibe that still has crowds lining up at their original location in downtown Portland. The pair came up with the concept for Voodoo shortly after the dawn of the new millennium, as they were tubing down the Sandy River, brainstorming business ideas. “We grabbed onto that notion and rolled with it, and here we are ten years later,” Cat Daddy recalls, “there was a lot of marijuana influence at the beginning, but to be honest, we have to cut back now because we’re ‘actual professionals,’” he says with a wink.
Voodoo Doughnuts rode the wave of the burgeoning foodie movement by utilizing time-tested, old-school production methods and combining their small-batch, high-quality confections with off-beat, creative flavors and a subversive theme. Doughnuts are made the old-fashioned way, hand-cut, hand-cranked and lovingly decorated.
“I still think there’s something good about the hand-cut doughnut, it’s individual, it’s not generic,” says Pogson.
The original location was a DIY effort, with Pogson and Shannon “begging, borrowing and stealing” to open the business -- building, decorating, creating doughnuts and working 18-hour days. Right away, they decided to stay open all night, so there’d be a place for the party crowd to go when they were done carousing. Cat Daddy says “Why not at two in the morning? You need your doughnuts then too!”
Bestselling doughnuts include the Bacon Maple Bar, Portland Crème and the Old Dirty Bastard (ODB), which is topped with chocolate frosting, crushed Oreo cookies and peanut butter. With more than one hundred doughnut options on the menu, and diverse toppings that include popular cereals like Captain Crunch or Rice Krispies, Butterfinger candy bars, and powdered drink mixes such as Tang, it’s easy to see how these junk food junkies got their inspiration. “A lot of those doughnuts are definitely marijuana-influenced,” Shannon says, and Cat Daddy continues, laughing “We would smoke pot and go shopping. So bacon and maple? Sure! Cereal doughnuts? Why not?! More sugar!”
You can find several pot-friendly selections on the menu, including a Maple Blazer Blunt doughnut that resembles a fat, cinnamon-dusted Philly, and the “Rapper’s Delight” special for $4.20, which includes a Maple Blazer blunt, an ODB and a Marshall Mathers, which arrives covered in M&Ms. “We invented the Maple Blazer Blunt when the Portland Trailblazers -- a.k.a. “the Jailblazers,” -- were getting into trouble with pot a lot, so every time a team member got busted for possession, we’d lower the doughnut price to 55 cents for the week, and that was good fun,” Pogson explains, “4/20 is always a big day for us. We usually do a lot of weddings on that day.”
Some of their untraditional ingredients -- over-the-counter medicines like cherry Tums and Pepto-Bismol -- attracted the attention of the authorities after a 2003 Oregonian newspaper article featured the NyQuil doughnut, soon to become the stuff of legend. Pogson explains how a doughnut laced with cough syrup manifested itself, saying, “I was shopping -- in a certain state of mind -- and I was looking for extracts and stuff, walking down the aisles, and there’s the NyQuil. It was that bluish-green… I had an epiphany and I bought a bottle, saying ‘what the hell!’ We put it in the glaze and in the doughnut, put it out there and people just went nuts about it!” The craze only lasted about a month, until a call from the Health Department ended the high times. “So it turns out, you can’t serve medicine on food.” Shannon says, “‘Use only as directed’ is a federal mandate, it’s not a suggestion… the NyQuil doughnuts were pretty gross anyway.”
When I ask if they’d ever created a private-label cannabis-infused doughnut, Pogson says, “Once -- we worked with a dispensary and made a cream-filled doughnut, but it was too strong, so it’s just a matter of getting the dose right. It’s still federally illegal. So one day maybe -- in Colorado we’ll be able to experiment.”
While Kenneth and Tres don’t indulge in cannabis as much as they once did, legal weed was certainly a bonus when deciding which city to bless with a new doughnut shop. Tres says “We definitely kept an eye on it,” referring to the new laws that will empower stoners to puff jays prior to picking up their pink boxes of sugary goodness, but the pair have conflicting feelings about how legalization will work. “I’d love to see it legalized easily,” Pogson says, “but it’s going to get so gummed up and taxed a hell of a lot. The whole idea that we can regulate a plant, on video from seed to sale—how many giant computer memory farms are you going to have to watch a plant grow?” While Shannon waxes nostalgic for the outlaw status weed used to have. “Part of the high is looking over your shoulder,” he says, “I liked the thrill of getting it illegally.”
The new Denver store “Very much matches our first Voodoo location,” Shannon says, meaning that the gritty vibe of the new neighborhood is in tune with the spirit of the flagship location, which is nestled between adult bookstores and bars in “The crotch of Portland.” In Denver's Colfax neighborhood, “there’s a dispensary nearby, a tattoo parlor, a gay bar and a dentist,” Shannon continues, “we spent two-and-a-half years searching for the perfect location.” The new spot will even have its own special namesake doughnut, a “Colfax Cream,” and a protective spirit-channeling mascot in the form of a black velvet painting of Pam Grier, a Denver native.
The shop will develop its own distinct culture, and the staff will be encouraged to celebrate the locale in unique ways. Employees are valued at Voodoo. According to Cat Daddy, “it’s a fast-food job, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care of people. We could be dicks and mechanize everything, but we know our employees are worth more than the hourly wage we pay them.”
Once the new Denver store is established, the pair says they'll begin expanding to other cities and creating more ‘sweet jobs,’ adding 10 to 20 locations. While more success and glory for Shannon and Pogson will be forthcoming, the pair say “everything extra at this point is just gravy,” and that they aren’t interested in cashing out, but instead plan on keeping it real. Cat Daddy says, “We don’t want to turn this into Krispy Kreme where they got greedy and tried to open up 700 locations.”