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The Sad Futility of Fake Voodoo Doughnuts

In Food, Portland on September 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm

A while ago I was in a Fred Meyer and saw this:

(Sarah snapped that, by the way- she has a magical picture-snapping phone, and I have a camera-less Blackberry.)

It’s fairly obvious what that’s supposed to be- the staff at the Freddy’s bakery clearly wanted to emulate the pastry style of one of Portland’s best-known pastry destinations, Voodoo Doughnut. Voodoo, of course, is known for lots of disparate  things such as cocoa puffs and Gummi worms on doughnuts. The Freddy’s Froot Loops donut is basically an exact replica of Voodoo’s Loop-laden offerings. It’s a cute strategy, but will fail for the following two reasons:

1: It’s utterly devoid of authenticity. The above-pictured doughnut reeks of painful and pale imitation. It’s the Transmorphers of the pastry world.

2: People don’t really go to Voodoo Doughnut for the doughnuts.

During my day job as a Portland tour guide, I get to see lots of people ask about Voodoo Doughnut. They tend to ask where it is or what it’s all about- seldom do they ask if the doughnuts are any good. They also aren’t deterred by the line that often forms around the shop. If anything, the line seems to amaze people and pique their interest in the shop. If lots of people are waiting, after all, it has to be worth it.

What people want from their Voodoo Doughnut experience is the feeling of having gone there, having waited in line, gotten their doughnuts, and experienced a bit of Portland’s eccentricity. Lots of people visit this city and have a general, unformed idea that it’s kind of weird. They’ve maybe seen that show on IFC, or have heard about things like people keeping chickens in their backyards or riding bikes naked. Lots of folks visit this town and want to plug into the oddness, but don’t know how. They don’t know anyone, and aren’t really sure where to look for weird stuff.

Voodoo Doughnut allows them to do that. It’s a relatively straightforward way for people visiting Portland to immediately participate in weird stuff. Granted, putting bacon on maple bars is not terribly weird compared to, say, reenacting Star Trek episodes, but it’s beyond the normal experience of people who don’t live in cities of appreciable size.

Mind you, I don’t think any of this is a bad thing. I’ve got no problems with Voodoo Doughnut as a business, nor as a representative of Portland. While I don’t think they’re doughnuts are going to cause anyone to experience any food-related revelations, their shop is a fun place to go, and I do like it that it’s great that they also perform weddings.

The experience of thinking “Hey, I found some of Portland’s weird stuff!” can’t really be replicated by putting Froot Loops all over a grocery store doughnut. The Fred Meyer bakery whose product is pictured above have tried to replicate something more successful, but they have missed entirely the reason people buy Froot Looped doughnuts in the first place- the experience. They’ve replicated the form and shape, yet missed the spirit.

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