Text: Troy Hendrick • Photography: Christian Neuhauser
What is it in this big, round world about a hot, glazed doughnut? After all, we've learned a lot about the food we eat, and we've been trying to get healthier for years. No more smoking, frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, egg-beaters, veggie burgers, low-fat, low-cal - and generally not much of it very tasty. But in the midst of the health craze, one 'hot doughnut now' couldn't possibly register a suspicious blip on the heart monitor, could it? An exception to the rule, right? It darts into our normally healthy lives and glazes our gullets so quickly that we escape without even counting one lardy strike against ourselves.
And we're not just getting away with it. We're getting carried away with it. Each Krispy Kreme store opening is a carnival, and the otherwise sane behavior of people attending turns inexplicably loony. Just outside of Minneapolis, MN, a record-breaking $ 480,693 worth of coffee and doughnuts sold in the opening week - that's a half-million dollars of a product costing a little less than the coinage usually cornered in a pocket. At the Denver, CO, opening, people even camped in front of the store [Where's George Lucas?], including two German women who flew over with only one motive: to catch the party. Motorcyclists and travelers come from all parts - sometimes traveling days - for a simple doughnut.
There must be a reason for the glaze-craze. Coca-Cola included cocaine derivatives in their original recipe. Could this particular doughnut's sugar-saturated varnish contain a special little something? Or maybe slick marketing executives subtly blasted us with subliminal scenarios of beautiful people licking doughnuts during movie previews and TV commercials.
In the end, there's a much simpler explanation. It has everything to do with who we are as motorcyclists, and what we stand for.
"We are who we are," explains Stan Parker, Senior Vice President of Marketing of Krispy Kreme. "We're a treat, an affordable indulgence. That's who we are, that's who we've always been. People understand when you're trying to be something you're not, and they respond to that."
Parker says he isn't surprised that doughnut and coffee stores have become a motorcyclist destination. "It seems like that's just another sharing experience," he reflects. "People feel good in Krispy Kreme because we offer a chance to share. Rarely do we have customers coming in for one doughnut - it's usually a dozen or two dozen or three dozen, and they share with co-workers, or whomever they are with. If people are riding motorcycles together, or traveling together, stopping in at a store is just another chance to share the total experience."
And he's right about that. Motorcyclists share a lot. We ride in groups, so we can share our rides. Sure, some of us are strong personalities forever following paths of our own. But each thrilling, beautiful, and adventurous journey we experience makes all motorcyclists a breed with much in common. And no one apologizes for these common traits, nor has anyone ever tried to change them. As Parker alludes, "We are what we are." It's as simple as a doughnut.
"If we're a good stop for travelers," Parker continues, "it's not because we're trying to reach that market, it just happens to work out. I'm not saying our product isn't unique - it's a proprietary recipe - it's just that we're not really doing anything differently than we've always done. It just works for the rest of the country now."
The doughnut company's founder, Vernon Rudolph, bought a secret recipe for yeast-raised doughnuts from a French chef in 1937. He brought it to Winston-Salem, NC, where he baked the doughnuts for local grocers. Before long, locals stopped in to see if he had any fresh doughnuts, hot from the oven. Voilà! A simple concept breeds demand and supply expands. Sixty-five years later, today, the same concept is the driving force propelling a phenomenal example of the traditional American success story.
Little has changed. It's the same recipe, same logo, the same signature doughnut theaters, and many of the same stores. But the main clientele has changed from grocers to retail customers looking for the "hot doughnuts now" experience.
And the mania driving these customers? Plain and simple: "It's a Krispy Kreme doughnut," says James Long, the Production Supervisor on Stratford Road in Winston-Salem, a position he's held for 23 years in one of the oldest stores in the country. "That's it, simple as that. It's original hot, glazed. We've got everything else - raspberry, sprinkles, doughnut holes, but it all sells off that original, hot glazed."
Barring the fact that motorcycling groups are riding to Krispy Kreme stores for a day trip, the tether between doughnuts and motorcycling seems fairly attenuated - and even somewhat inane. But examining how a simple doughnut could emerge as the driving force behind the paradigmatic American success story shed some unexpected light on the mystique of the American motorcyclist.
I asked Bill Arnold, a Krispy Kreme regular, what was special about the original, hot glazed doughnut. His response, "Son, have you ever had one? If you had, you wouldn't ask me that question." Yet after all the interviews, hard to ask questions and equally imprecise answers, I remained confused.
I was sitting quietly in the corporate headquarters test store when the issue finally came into focus. The test store, a concept shop, is similar to many of the new stores opening in the country's major metropolitan areas.
It sells original doughnuts in a shiny, brand-new setting. It's a gathering place. It's not really a coffee shop, although a wide range of coffees is available. It's not really a doughnut shop either, although the signature theater is efficiently packed away in the rear of the store, and the hot glazed doughnuts are coming off the line.
It's more like a diner. Except diners, per se, can't befriend you or listen to your tales with earnest sincerity. That's preposterous. But that's the way the store feels - so welcoming with the warmth of a fresh-brewed cup of joe and the almost sinful prospect of sinking your choppers into a Krispy Kreme original. Chrome, white, and black are the dominant colors. Attractive posters, pictures, and menus in primary colors line the walls. All at once, it's retro, modern, and totally inviting. It is spacious, and I easily see myself comfortably sitting here, sharing sugar- and caffeine-spiked stories with friends.
That's when the realization becomes clear. It's not just a doughnut. It's a feeling. It's being nothing but exactly what it is, and "being it" as if its never been any other way. It's not about suppressing a sweet tooth for health reasons. It's not about hyping the mediocre. It's genuine. It's simple. It tastes good. It's hot and fresh, and you can watch it being made from scratch. No shrink-wrapping, no freeze-drying. No born-on date is even necessary because this product could never be canned or bottled.
I repeat: It's just pure, simple, and genuine. And as I sat there, a familiar feeling crept over me, traceable to motorcycling - from meeting friendly strangers and fellow wanderers on the road, from stopping to enjoy a view on the Blue Ridge Parkway - and I thought how extraordinarily far one can progress in life on nothing but sincerity.