She popped the donut in the air, And in her mouth it landed there She chewed it, smiled and gave a wink. “Mmmmmm! There’s nothing quite like glazed, I think.” —The Donut Chef, by Bob Staake
Achtung, vegans! Stop reading now and turn the page. The rest of this column is about a certain variety of yeast-raised, deep-fried donut coated with a sugar glaze and packing 40 calories a bite.
OK. Now that the vegans have departed in disgust, let’s get to it. A glazed donut is to coffee as chicken soup is to comfort. On that axiom, Dunkin’ Donuts (DD), Salt Lake City’s newest downtown eatery, has spent 60 years building a franchise business, primarily on the East Coast. Before the sun sets today, 5 million people will have visited a DD to buy a cup of coffee. Because coffee and donuts go together like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, those coffee drinkers also purchase billions of donuts in a year’s time.
I got hooked on DD coffee when I lived in Massachusetts. There, DD is as ubiquitous as the Red Sox logo. Even though there is nothing quite like a glazed donut and a cup of DD’s Arabica coffee, I was surprised that on the day DD opened its first store in Salt Lake City in late June, people queued before 4 a.m., waiting for the door to open. A week later, the lines inside the store backed up to the doors at mid-morning.
I take the eager crowds as an indication of a latent demand for donuts in a region of the country where it is easier to buy a fresh bagel than a fresh donut. Remember the hoopla and traffic jams when Krispy Kreme opened a donut store in Orem a few years back?
Utahns take unabashed pride in their food culture—fry sauce, Jell-O, ice cream and funeral potatoes. However, they tend to forget that Salt Lake City has its own unique donut history. In 1940, local brothers Al and Bob Pelton developed a recipe for making donuts from potato flour. They dubbed the confection a “spudnut.” In the 1950s, as DD was getting rolling in Massachusetts and Krispy Kreme was expanding in North Carolina, upward of 400,000 spudnuts were sold each day in franchises around the country. The Pelton brothers sold the company in 1968, and since then, the spudnut has languished. Nowadays, it’s hard to find one.
But Twinkies are back, and fancy donuts like “magenta hibiscus” or “chocolate with cacao nibs” are all the rage in New York City. The “cronut,” a donut lookalike made from fried croissant dough, is so popular there that customers are limited to two. Closer to home, DD finally has a foothold near the downtown library, and two stores are opening in Sugar House later this year; more than a dozen DDs are planned for Utah.
But, despite the name, DD is a coffee company. Donuts are a sidelight. Krispy Kreme, on the other hand, is a donut company that also sells coffee. I would expect Krispy Kreme donuts to dominate DD’s in a blind tasting. So, I set out to test the hypothesis.
First, I recruited a blue-ribbon panel of tasters: Jerre Wroble, former City Weekly editor and “halfway foodie”; her boyfriend, John Collins, a reserved man with bakery experience on his résumé; Frank Steffey, once a Marine Corps pilot, who doesn’t shrink from admitting that “donuts have been an important part of my diet for 60 years”; and Nancy Rasmuson, my ever-accommodating wife, who is not as fond of DD as I, but has been known to eat a DD cruller with a cup of hazelnut-flavored coffee. Vickie Steffey served as recorder.
Next, I bought glazed donuts from Krispy Kreme, Banbury Cross, Dunkin’ Donuts, Harmons, Smith’s, the Fresh Market on 2100 South, Redwood Road’s Sugarbabies Donut Works and Fresh Donut & Deli. I couldn’t find a spudnut. I chose the eight places so as to get a representative sample of local shops, grocery-store bakeries and donut chains.
The panel assembled on a Sunday morning for a blind tasting. Awaiting them was an array of eight glistening donuts identified only by a number. With a pot of DD coffee to cleanse their palates, the tasters tucked into the donuts, rating them in the categories of taste, texture and eye appeal. I must say, they comported themselves as if they were seasoned professionals.
An hour and two pots of coffee later, Vickie Steffey polled the panel and the results were tabulated. At the top of the list was a trifecta predicted by my wife days before: Sugarbabies Donut Works tied Banbury Cross Donuts for second place, with Fresh Market on 2100 South besting both by a single digit. I must say I was surprised, and in deference to the other five bakeries, I’ll leave it at this: As regards DD and Krispy Kreme, my hypothesis held: Krispy Kreme came in ahead of DD in the panel’s careful ranking. At the bottom of the list, the No. 8 donut was deemed irredeemably “heavy and dense.”
In the sweet afterglow of Salt Lake City’s first donut tasting, I got to thinking about the fact that beer consumption increases in an economic downturn. Could it be that desire for donuts correlates with some prevailing public sentiment, such as frustration with self-interested politicians? Perhaps there is a case to be made that swallowing a few glazed donuts makes swallowing the venality of politicians like John Swallow, the grandstanding of congressmen like Jason “Benghazi” Chaffetz, and the obstructionist mindset of senators like Mike Lee slightly less bitter. If so, DD could profit handsomely from a new variety—the Delectable Despair-Defeating Donut—sold only by the dozen.