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Doughnuts fill a hole in our lives

TWO VIEWS • Krispy Kreme has finally arrived: Is that good or bad news for Portland?

Like a high school sophomore who's neither hip enough for the cool kids nor geeky enough to hang with the band nerds, Portland suffers an identity crisis. Too big to be a small town, the Rose City yearns to be considered all grown up like that Emerald City to the north Ñ a genuine metropolis, with all the respect and traffic snarls that come with that dubious honor.

Well, we may not have a major league baseball team (yet) or a tram to ride up the hill to OHSU (yet) or five Starbucks outlets plunked down on top of Interstate 405 (yipes!), but we now have definitive affirmation that we're a city to be reckoned with: Krispy Kreme has come to Portland.

They're just doughnuts, you may scoff. Oh, no, my hot-off-the-assembly-line-cruller-deprived friends. According to their legions of devoted fans, Krispy Kremes are the Holy Grail of doughnuts, magical creations of sugary goodness that elevate that humble pastry to heights of culinary nirvana rarely experienced by mortal man.

People stand in line for hours just to grab a dozen when the 'Hot Donuts Now' sign beckons. To avoid these lines, desperate Krispy Kreme fanatics will surreptitiously buy them secondhand from scalpers in the doughnut shop's parking lot, like boxes of sticky, greasy crack cocaine.

Yes, it sounds crazy, but ask any devoted lover of these deep-fried delights and you'll walk away convinced that no doughnut has ever approached the lofty heights of Krispy Kreme-ness.

In other words, Krispy Kreme is a big deal Ñ and, for once, Portland's in on the action.

Naturally, we've had to wait our turn for these wondrous confections. Krispy Kreme was founded in North Carolina in 1937 and long was considered a regional Southern delicacy. But in 1995 the company opened its first outlet in New York, then started spreading the gospel of hot-doughnuts-on-demand to bustling cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas and, well, Des Moines, Iowa.

Yes, Iowa got Krispy Kremes before we did. But try not to dwell on that. É Does Des Moines have a vacuum cleaner museum? I think not.

One has to wonder, though, how much of the fervor over Krispy Kreme stems not from the doughnuts themselves but from the unique way in which consumers are able to stand, glassy-eyed and drooling, at a window and observe the actual life cycle of the donuts. It's rather like a live-action cross between Food Network and Animal Planet.

As the 'Hot Donuts Now' sign blazes, circles of yeasty dough travel along a conveyor belt in full view of customers. After growing to full size, they drop into a bath of bubbling hot oil, then flip over to get a greasy, even browning on their undersides. They're finished after they travel through a cascading waterfall of thick sugar glaze.

See, it's not just a doughnut Ñ it's breakfast and a show! If Willy Wonka made doughnuts instead of candy, surely his suburban storefronts would be just like those of Krispy Kreme. All that's missing are the Oompa Loompas refilling your coffee.

There are those who would say that doughnuts are bad purely for health reasons. Indeed, they might be Ñ if you lived on them exclusively (and there are doubtless people who do live on nothing but doughnuts, but there's a special kind of Darwinism at work there indicating that excessive doughnut-eating may be the least of their worries).

But a warm, sweet, chewy Krispy Kreme now and then Ñ and the enjoyment of watching them trundle along the assembly line through their glistening sugar baths Ñ can't be measured solely by the incremental hardening of one's arteries. Portland is, after all, a city with a beleaguered school system, a fractious relationship between citizens and law enforcement, and Triple-A baseball.

Surely 'Hot Donuts Now' can bring us just a little of the joy that Bridgetown so richly deserves. Let the cholesterol fall where it may.

Dawn Taylor is a freelance writer living in North Portland who enjoys many foods in addition to doughnuts. She is a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and her movie reviews for the Portland Tribune and DVD Journal can be found on the Rotten Tomatoes Web site at www.rottentomatoes.com.