Voodoo Doughnut is the most well-known doughnut shop in Portland. In fact, it would be no mistake to call it the most famous place in Portland.
There’s always a line out front, and you’ll see people here and there downtown walking around with one of their eye-catching pink takeout boxes.
But to be honest, it was a mystery to me why they’re so popular.
Doughnuts with bacon on them. Doughnuts in the shape of voodoo dolls. Intense sweetness that screams out American. A quirky novelty shop that sells all of these. That was my first impression. But the shop does more than just create buzz; it keeps many customers coming back again. Why is that?
We writers for Noren Portland heard talk that Voodoo Doughnut was planning to expand to Japan in the near future. We couldn’t resist this excuse to do a special feature that would take a close-up look at their strange appeal, so we put together a project team.
However, the guy who was picked to write the first article on it was me, Masaki, and I’m not the biggest fan of sweet foods. You may be thinking, ‘Why the heck did they pick you, then?’ Well, it’s simple. There are subtle things that I pick up on because of it. And the reason why Voodoo Doughnut is so popular is clear to me now.
In a nutshell, it’s a doughnut shop that embodies the slogan, “Keep Portland Weird.”
Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson (left) and Tres Shannon (right). These two friends started Voodoo Doughnut in 2003. Neither of them had ever made a doughnut before, and Tres had never even cooked in his life.
Open 24 Hours! Cap off a night of drinking with a doughnut
The original Voodoo Doughnut shop is located in Old Town, a somewhat “shady-looking” area jostling with bars and clubs.
Next door is the Paris Theater, an “adult” cinema. When this shot was taken, they were showing some of the adult anime that Japan has proudly (?) spread to the world.
One of Voodoo Doughnut’s greatest selling points is the fact that it’s open 24 hours, which is even greater because that means it can z to a city rich with nightlife. When you consider that the busiest time of the week for them is Friday at midnight, Voodoo isn’t your typical doughnut shop.
After 2 a.m. when the night clubs start closing, one drunk person after another comes to stuff his or her face with a doughnut. Voodoo Doughnut is a tasty post-party snack for many Portlanders.
Throw some bacon on it!
The two must-try doughnuts at Voodoo are quite strange. The Voodoo Doll doughnut, both cute and grotesque, is the most iconic one. It comes with a pretzel impaling its heart, and is filled with raspberry jam reminiscent of blood.
The Bacon Maple Bar comes with a crispy slab of bacon on top of the usual super-sweet maple frosting, which is hard to believe for someone with Japanese sensibilities. The first time I saw it, I honestly thought I’d never be caught dead eating it. It seemed like a joke, but it actually is the most popular item on the menu at Voodoo Doughnut.
Once you get past your skepticism and take the first bite, you’ll find it goes surprisingly well together. Americans tend to like this kind of sweet-and-salty combination, and you’ll find lots of other things like it. Like waffles with fried chicken.
Cat Daddy, the owner, told us that he wants to popularize the Bacon Maple Bar in Japan, which makes me wonder how well it’ll go over. We’ll have to wait and see.
Voodoo Doughnut has many other weird varieties of doughnut as well. Stay tuned for our upcoming article on their lineup of odd doughnuts and the ten most popular ones!
Free if you can eat it in under 80 seconds!
Cat Daddy says that “This is a ‘circus’ doughnut shop,” and indeed, the shop has several campaigns going that you might find at a circus side show.
The Tex-Ass Challenge doughnut is one of these, a crazy proposition in which you can get a giant doughnut, six times the size of a normal one, for free if you can eat it in under 80 seconds. You can try it any time you want, so if you feel confident in your speed eating, go for it!
With not much of a sweet tooth and little aptitude for scarfing food quickly, I took the Tex-Ass Challenge, and things got real…
Don’t miss our “Tex-Ass Challenge” article, also coming soon. I might even slip in a strategic tip or two based on my experience.
Now serving: In a bucket, in a coffin
At Voodoo Doughnut, any doughnut that has been out for eight hours is removed from the front area. However, it would be a waste to throw them all away. And so the doughnuts that outlive their expiration period are put into a bucket and sold in bulk at a super bargain price.
Depending on the size of each doughnut, a small-size bucket (which is actually huge) can hold 30 to 35 doughnuts, and is only 8 dollars. The big-size holds 40 to 45 and is 10 dollars. They’re a popular choice for parties. However, there aren’t always enough expired doughnuts at the shop, so you’ll have to check with them.
And, for a limited time, there are coffins. Each doughnut in a coffin is hand-made, so they have to be pre-ordered. The coffin holds 39 doughnuts and costs 110 dollars. We hear they get swamped with orders around Halloween.
The employees at Voodoo Donuts are an enthusiastic bunch, and light on their feet. Their eagerness to please is astounding; the owner set up an interview with us in just two correspondences, the shop was as cooperative as could be back when we did our own over-the-top “Kaerematen” game (based on a Japanese TV show where the cast is forced to eat the top 10 menu items at a restaurant until they can correctly rank them), and they even custom-made a doughnut for us with the Noren Portland logo on it. This alone could be the secret to their popularity.
We’ll put up the full interview with Cat Daddy, the co-owner of the Voodoo franchise, in a future article. We asked Daddy, who excels in good sense when it comes to business, about his plans to expand to Japan, and any exclusive stories he could tell us about starting the business. But more importantly, you’re probably wondering where the nickname “Cat Daddy” came from, right? Don’t worry, we asked him that too.
Every bit that Cat Daddy is a great businessman, the other owner is a great showman. The crazy enterprise that is Voodoo Donuts couldn’t have happened without him there to run the program. He tells us he wants his staff to live their lives cherishing their hobbies, and his view on work is definitely worth a listen.
Their beautiful and punk-loving public relations handler, Sarah, is also an active rock singer. Amid repeated inquiries for an interview with the owner, she never made a sour face and always gave a timely response. I swear she’s a goddess…
Sarah also showed us some of Voodoo Doughnut’s original merchandise. Look for a rundown of their merch, complete with a bit of dirty humor, by this punk-rock girl in an upcoming article!
From T-shirts and postcards to vinyl records and underwear, there are all kinds of goods to take home from Voodoo as the perfect Portland souvenir.
When we did our “Kaerematen” eat-and-rank game, Kevin gave his time freely to set up the venue and even help the game move along. Where does this desire to serve come from?
His long hair and beard give off the appearance of a hippie, but his old job surprisingly was a banker. When asked if he used to be more reserved as a banker, he replied, “No, I was like this back then too.” This is part of what makes him very Portland-like. Keep an eye out for an article on our “Kaerematen” game, which was made possible through his unparalleled cooperation. We’ll also have interesting stories about each of the top 10 most popular Voodoo Doughnuts.
Also, the kind and helpful Miki also works at the original Voodoo Doughnut, so customers who only speak Japanese can still have the same great experience.
This Voodoo Doughnut special feature is brought to you by the following people:
Fumiko: Our reliable general manager. Coordination, photography, writing
Masaki: Interviews, writing
Mirei: Video production, “Kaerematen” MC, writing
Ryoma: Proposal writing, editing
Tsubo: Photography, SNS promotion
Special thanks goes to Tres, Cat Daddy, Sara, Kevin, and all the fabulous Voodoo staff. We appreciate your great help!
Voodoo Doughnut ONE（１号店）
Voodoo Doughnut Too（２号店）
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