Dunkin' Donuts Comeback

Rachel: I just read in the Strib that Dunkin' Donuts, the largest American doughnut chain, plans to open 100 new stores in Minnesota. DD had a bit of a presence in the Twin Cities in the 90s--the only one I ever visited was at 66th and Penn in Richfield--but all of its franchises are currently closed. As a Midwest-to-East Coast-to-Midwest transplant--can I call you that, Jim?--I'm curious to hear about your relationship with the ubiquitous supersweet coffee and donut shop.

Jim: I lived in Boston for nearly six years, so I'm pretty well steeped in the Dunkies experience. Hand to God, you'd often hear directions that would sound like this: "Yeah, just go down Mass. Ave past the Symphony T-stop, turn right at the Dunkin' Donuts, go about a mile, turn left at the Dunkin' Donuts, drive until you pass Dunkin' Donuts, and it'll be there on your left."

A full quarter... sometimes a third... of the people on any given Green Line train would be drinking Dunkin' Donuts coffee when I went to work in the morning. And I have to say: I came to love the stuff, even though -- no, BECAUSE -- a "regular" coffee came with a pile of cream and at least two sugars.

In contrast to Starbucks or Caribou, Dunkin' Donuts tends to be a much mellower (less acrid) coffee experience. And for getting rolling in the morning, it's certainly how I prefer to go, the appeal of $16.99/pound Ethiopian Sidamo notwithstanding. At home, I drink Folgers. Believe it or not, my coffee barrista brother really helped me feel OK about drinking Folgers and other lowbrow coffee, Dunkin' Donuts included.

Rachel: As one who likes her coffee to taste like melted coffee ice cream, I can get on board with DD's--though sweet tooth that I am, two sugars are too much for me. I think it's funny that DD's coffee seems to have become more popular than its doughnuts. I haven't had one of the doughnuts for so long,* I can't really speak to them, but I'm sure you have some thoughts.

*When I lived in NY, there was a DD a block from my office, but I stopped frequenting it after they converted half of the space into a Taco Bell, which was open in the afternoons and evenings. It seemed like a smart business move, but I felt weird about the co-mingling smells of frying dough and bean burritos.

Jim: The doughnuts are bad, really bad. This was an open secret, even in Boston, where dedication to Dunkies is a religion. You can choke down the donut holes (like the bigger doughnuts, they tend to be dry, crusty, bready, mealy), particularly while slurping down the coffee, but it's better not to.

I grew up visiting my grandmother in Milwaukee, and we'd often arrive to the smell of freshly fried homemade cinnamon/nutmeg doughnuts. And going to school in Madison, there's a local doughnut place called Greenbush that has taken cake doughnuts and raised doughnuts alike to a new level. The blueberry cake doughnuts, in particular, make me salivate at their very mention.

Dunkin' Donuts doughnuts:real doughnuts as Pizza Hut pizza:a real New York City slice.

Rachel: So that means Baker's Wife and its heavenly cinnamon-coated cake donuts have nothing to worry about, right? Do you think the lousy doughnuts will make DD go the way of Krispy Kreme, shuttering doors as quickly as they opened, or will the coffee keep it in business?

Jim: Anyone depending upon the sale of decent doughnuts shouldn't be troubled in the slightest. Caribou, Starbucks, possibly even local coffee shops accustomed to doing a brisk breakfast business should brace themselves for (and no doubt are bracing themselves for) a new business environment once Dunkin' Donuts gets rolling.

The difference between the Krispy Kreme model and the DD model is this: KK doughtnuts are the reason people went there. They're wicked sweet and, after a few visits, you don't really need to have them again. DD doughnuts are nearly inedible, and increasingly if not totally irrelevant to their business model. They're about the coffee, plain and simple. I think Dunkin' Donuts will be in it for the long haul.

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