Portland, Oregon is a town that prides itself on a single motto: “Keep Portland Weird”. A prime example of the quirky spirit the city strives to preserve is the local institution Voodoo Doughnut. Since 2003, Voodoo has been making some of the weirdest and tastiest doughnuts in the country. Some of their insane creations include the Bacon Maple Bar (now found in many restaurants, but only after Voodoo’s version got national attention on Travel Chanel), the Grape Ape (a raised doughnut with vanilla frosting, grape dust, and sprinkles), the Triple Chocolate Penetration (a chocolate cake doughnut with chocolate frosting and coco-puffs), the Memphis Mafia (a banana fritter with chocolate frosting, peanut butter, peanuts, and chocolate chips), and the famous Cock-N-Balls (well…the name says it all).
Being an Oregon native myself, I knew that Voodoo Doughnut was a necessary stop on our Blimpo 2010 road trip. I was fortunate enough to get an interview with owners Tres Shannon and Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson in their Voodoo Doughnuts Too location in Northeast Portland. Surrounded by tribute art of Kenny Rogers, coffin bench seats, and pinball machines, we discussed the a day in the life of a doughnut maker.
Thom Forke: What made you guys decide on doughnuts?
Tres: We were actually going to open up a bar first, but the money was just outrageous…
Cat Daddy: Then the Voodoo Gods kinda came around and nudged us and said, “Hey there’s no doughnut shops in downtown Portland”. Then we did our research and still, to this day, we cannot find any history showing that there was ever a doughnut shop in downtown. There have been shops in other parts of Portland, but not in downtown.
Tres: Then we went down to LA to go learn doughnut making from our doughnut masters and there were like 10,000 doughnut shops down there. It was funny cause in all of Portland there were only four or five total, maybe?
Thom Forke: So I read on your website that you learned from these doughnut masters located in LA area, who are they?
Cat Daddy: Yeah, down in Pico Rivera. We learned from these four grizzled veterans at a master baking kitchen and they each took turns working with us and giving us their “secret tips” and all of them were pretty much on the same page. All of the secret tips were in terms of the actual business, but the doughnut making process itself was almost the same. And we were a couple of greenhorns…
Tres: We had a good idea, but no clue how to make it a business and that’s what they showed us.
Cat Daddy: And now we’re the biggest retail doughnut shop on the West Coast, if not nationally. We’re a drop in the bucket for those wholesale doughnut places, but for retail, we have really gotten big in seven years.
Thom Forke: That’s awesome. I gotta ask, how did you get the name Cat Daddy?
Cat Daddy: It kinda just got tagged onto me. I used to announce bar brawl wrestling and that was my announcer name. I was MC Cat Daddy and it kinda just stuck from that point on.
Thom Forke: Something else kinda unique about you guys is that you do weddings here as well. How many weddings have you guys done now?
Cat Daddy: A lot. I’ve been saying 300 for so long now that I’m sure it’s much higher.
Tres: Yeah, it’s gotta be close to 400 now.
Cat Daddy: The thing I love about the wedding part of the job is that the shop stuff is everyday routine for us, but weddings, you never know what you’re gonna get with a wedding here! My favorite was the guy who brought his mother in an urn to his wedding.
Tres: Yeah, he had a Jerry Curl and was wearing a psychedelic pant suit. It was pretty insane.
Cat Daddy: But we get all types here. Some people are fuddy-duddies and just do it because we are cheap. We’re actually cheaper than the courthouse.
Thom Forke: How do you guys come up with the recipes and all the crazy names of your doughnuts?
Tres: Pretty much from smokin a lot of pot, haha. Some of them are creations of our employees too.
Cat Daddy: Yeah, we got up to about 40 flavors real fast but then we had to cut the cord. Between our three locations and all our employees it would have been too much. We also work three shifts, so it’s like someone makes a doughnut and sells it and then that customer comes back at another time and they’re like, “Where’s that one doughnut?!”. There are some that sneak in though. We have a Mojito Doughnut that we are working on.
Thom Forke: So are there any flavors that sounded good on paper but really didn’t taste good in reality?
Tres: The Whiskey Dick kinda sucked. That and the Jagermeister didn’t work well at all. So I guess the boos doughnuts.
And it was at this time, as if the Voodoo Gods had been listening in on our conversation, that we were all distracted by a heavily intoxicated young woman (keep in mind that it’s 11am) rummaging through the discount boxes of ‘last shift’ doughnuts. After looking over four or five boxes, she found one to her liking. Unfortunately, her inability to walk in a straight line or hold things level resulted in a upside down box and a pile of doughnuts on the floor. Too drunk to care, she bent over to scoop them back into the box and revealed to everyone watching, including the 8 year old boy ten feet behind her, that she forgot to wear underwear with her mini skirt. She was none the wiser to what had just happened and continued on her merry way.
Thom Forke: Well that kid just got his first anatomy lesson! Looks like you guys don’t need alcohol in your doughnuts anyways.
Tres: Yeah. This stuff happens in our downtown store at night, but I’ve never seen it at 11am before. This location is usually a little more family friendly. Must be the heatwave…
Thom Forke: So back to the interview. You guys have been featured on multiple TV shows and have gotten lots of national press in print as well. It seems as though ever since you guys showed up on TV, there have been more “crazy” doughnut shops popping up all over the place, like Psycho Donuts in San Jose, CA.
Cat Daddy and Tres: They blatantly ripped us off and have told us they did.
Tres: Yeah, a disgruntled business partner who left Psycho Donuts called and said, “Just wanna let you know, we stole your idea!”. He wanted us to go on video and call Psycho Donuts out for stealing our shit. All that to get back at his business partner.
Thom Forke: So are you guys flattered by imitators or do you find it kinda offensive?
Cat Daddy: Sure. I think if nothing else, we can take credit to revolutionizing the doughnut industry. We took a dying industry and reinvented it. Before we came around, Portland didn’t even really have a doughnut industry besides a couple shops like Duncan Donuts. I mean, people can take credit but we started in 2003 and I didn’t really see Bacon Maple Doughnuts or Cereal Doughnuts back then and now they are everywhere.
Thom Forke: What are your favorite doughnuts?
Tres: I still love the buttermilk bar. I ate one today for breakfast actually.
Cat Daddy: I’m an old fashioned guy. It’s still my favorite. It’s funny that after all the crazy doughnuts that we make and come up with, we both still just love the simple stuff.
Tres: Yeah, some of them are so sweet that it makes my teeth hurt even thinking about it, but people love ’em man. There have been a couple that were just not selling enough to keep making and we thought about pulling them from the menu, like the Grape Ape, and then we tell someone and they go nuts! “You can’t get rid of that one man, it’s my favorite!”. So they spread the word and it picks up again. Then, before you know it, some guy comes walking in and has a Grape Ape Doughnut Tattoo.
Cat Daddy: Yeah! I saw a girl with a Bacon Maple Bar Tattoo too! And one of employees has our logo tattooed on him. That’s commitment right there!
Thom Forke: Yes it is! Talk about dedication to your job. So, my last question is a question I ask everyone I interview. When you’re not working, where do you go out to eat?
Cat Daddy: That’s a good one…if I’m riding the sweet train I really like the pie at Random Order Coffeehouse and Bakery.
Tres: I love the pie at the Oyster Bar. That’s kinda a secret, an old school place. It’s family owned and has been there for like 103 years or something. And what’s that one guy, the Blue Plate guy?
Cat Daddy: Oh yeah! Blue Plate! It’s just a guy with a small kitchen and a real simple menu trying to due the old school blue plate menu items. Really cool.
Tres: And I like Bunk Sandwiches a lot. That place is pretty awesome. Good luck gettin in though. They usually have a line around the block. We just like going out in general, Portland is a really fun town with tons of good food.
Thom Forke: I couldn’t agree more!
For more info about Voodoo Doughnut, check out their website at www.voodoodoughnut.com
Photography by Brett Pinsent Photography