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The magic is in the (record) hole

Voodoo Doughnut to release baker's dozen of dough-themed songs on new label


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Voodoo Doughnut moguls Kenneth Cat Daddy Pogson (left) and Tres Shannon say their dalliance into music helps branding.A heavy-set Labrador retriever named Oprah Winfrey is the first one to greet you when you knock on the door to the Voodoo Doughnut business office.

Oprah Winfrey’s owner, Voodoo Doughnut co-founder Tres Shannon, makes it a point of saying he named his black lab after the talk-show host long before rapper 50 Cent gave his schnauzer the same name.

The 8-year-old dog comes into the Voodoo Doughnut office regularly. Voodoo Doughnut’s other co-founder, Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson, leaves his dog home because of some house-training problems.

Oprah Winfrey cost Shannon quite a bit of money a few years back.

“She fell off a 150-foot cliff in Oceanside,” Shannon says. “A big, fat, black lab falling in front of a bunch of people.”

It’s hard to believe the sweet, good-natured dog took such a long fall and survived. Then again, Shannon and Pogson seem to have been born under the right stars.

Back in 2003, the nation was getting health conscious. Low-carb diets were in; junk food was out. The economy was showings signs of trouble and people did not have a lot of disposable income. But somehow, when Shannon and Pogson opened a little doughnut shop in Old Town, it became one of the most iconic businesses in the history of Portland.

“We were the right thing at the right time on the right corner with the right mentality,” Pogson says. “It was the right time for all of that stuff. Opening a sweet and bread business in the height of the anti-carb thing, with the economy down, all of that somehow accelerated us. Everything was so low-carb centered, and we threw right in the face of that. That was one of our early taglines, ‘Moderation is the key, the magic is in the hole.’ With the recession, it was still a cheap date for five bucks.

“We’ve been really lucky to catch lightning in a bottle. We’ve spent our entire career trying to control the lightning rather than desperately trying to find the lightning,” Pogson says.

“We ride the lightning,” Shannon corrects, smiling. “Ride the lightning, Daddy.”

Voodoo Doughnut provides high enough quality pastries to keep cops and shady clients alike to keep coming back.

The Voodoo lightning ride is now taking Shannon and Pogson further into the world of music. With the same exuberance and, perhaps, the same naiveté they had when they began Voodoo Doughnut, Shannon and Pogson have started a record label, Voodoo Doughnut Recordings.

“Really, it’s to keep our job interesting, and it sounded fun,” says Pogson, whose favorite doughnut is an old-fashioned. “We’re at a point where we can take a risk. We can play with this and throw some money at it. I don’t see it being the behemoth the doughnut shop is, but if it can get some legs, we can have some fun.”

Shannon has always been into the Portland music scene. He is the regular host of Karaoke From Hell. But he knows what butters his bread.

“We’re doughnut guys, not record label guys. But, it’s another great brand for Voodoo Doughnut,” Shannon says.

The record label, which doesn’t have its own recording studio yet, will have a distinctly Voodoo feel to it. One record will be released each month on 7-inch vinyl, as well as online. The “A” side of the record will feature a song about doughnuts. The “B” side will have whatever song the artists wants to put on it.

The first record, “It Ain’t No Cupcake (Workin’ At Voodoo Doughnut),” was composed by Dan Eccles and performed by The Doughnut Boys. “Cheap Bastard,” performed by Pink Boxxes, is on the “B” side.

The artists will be given 100 copies of their record for their own distribution, plus some royalties.

Shannon and Pogson have listened to countless demos from artists wanting to be a part of the record label. They are careful not to jump on too many songs too quickly, knowing that they will only get a chance to put out 12 records this year.

“It’s at a point now where we have a gigantic glut of songs that have appeared,” Pogson says. “If the song really blows us away, we’ll put somebody ahead of a major name. But, having a major name do a single for us could be huge for the label which would enable us to do more.”

Shannon has a vision of having a doughnut box of records by the end of the year.

“In a perfect world, I’m thinking of a box set,” says Shannon, whose favorite doughnut is a buttermilk bar. “At the end of this year we will have 12 singles. That will be kind of like a box of doughnuts. Hopefully we get a bacon maple bar single out of the deal. How great will that box be? At the end of the day, we’ll have an awesome piece. The 13th (recording) will maybe be audience driven, maybe be a huge band, maybe we’ll draw it out of a hat.”

The dream of having enough recordings to fill a box does not exactly put Shannon and Pogson in the same league as Suge Knight, but that’s just fine with them.

On the outside, the two seem the epitome of the “Keep Portland Weird” vibe. On top of having a dog named Oprah Winfrey, 48-year-old Shannon, who grew up in Colorado, is classic hipster, with long hair and funky glasses. The 47-year-old Pogson, who came to Portland from Memphis in 1988, earned his nickname back in the days when he used to hustle people out of their money playing beer-drinking games.

Beneath their wild exterior, Shannon and Pogson are cautious businessmen who have never been interested in having a film crew turn their lives into a reality TV show. And once Voodoo began experiencing success, they resisted the urge to open up as many stores as possible.

“We could’ve opened 100 in three years, but we’ve taken our time to cultivate this,” Pogson says. “That’s one of the reasons that it’s had iconic success. We haven’t tried to spread the cool out too thin.”

Since 2003, Voodoo Doughnut has opened only four stores — two in Portland, one in Eugene, and recently one in Denver, where Shannon spent a good portion of his childhood.

Could Voodoo Doughnut work in more conservative places, where the likes of Dunkin’ Donuts reign supreme?

“I don’t know how it would work in Tulsa,” Shannon says.

But that may be a question Shannon and Pogson never have to find the answer to.

Says Pogson: “Looking for the ‘Portlandia’ feel isn’t hard.”