Since I arrived in Portland for the summer, Voodoo Doughnut has been unavoidable. At first, I wanted to write an article on all the Voodoo doughnuts I ate. Turns out not many people care about how many doughnuts I can eat. Upon talking to the people of Portlandia, I heard about the smooth, mystical character, Cat Daddy (aka one of the co-owners of Voodoo doughnuts) and reached out to him in hopes of an interview.
Spoon: How did the idea of Voodoo Doughnut all begin?
Cat Daddy: Well, I have one business partner and we spent a lot of time coming up with business ideas to do crazy things just over drinks at 2 in the morning. I got tired of talking about it and decided it was time to make a move. I found that there were two people I wanted to go into business with: one in my hometown of Memphis, TN and one here [Portland, OR]. And the guy in Memphis didn’t want to do it and I wasn’t happy in Memphis. So I came back to Portland and found my current business partner, Tres. And I said “I’m ready. Are you ready to stop talking about this at 2 in the morning and do this?”
We didn’t know it was going to be a doughnut shop at this point, we were just going into business to do something. And then we came across the idea there was not a single doughnut shop in downtown Portland and that fascinated us. And we rolled with it. And 13 years later, here we are.
Spoon: Did you expect it to be what it is now?
CD: Oh ya know, in your deepest fantasy you’re sitting there thinking, “Yeah, people are gonna come from all over and it’s going to be crazy.” And granted, it happened quick. Compared to American business, our success happened quick.
That first summer we were sitting there looking at each other thinking, this could turn into something-this could get big. And we have been fortunate enough to ride the wave since. We were able to spend our business experience controlling growth rather than desperately trying to come up with a way to grow. That is a good way to be in business.
Now, we are very protective of it. This is our baby.
Spoon: How did it feel making a doughnut for the first time after having the idea of Voodoo Doughnut – and with zero experience?
CD: It was empowering. It was scary too. I have been in hospitality forever, since I was a little kid. But I’ve never been on the kitchen side of it. I’ve never made the product, I was front of the house, managing, that kind of stuff. I spent very little time as a cook.
But, before we could do it [start Voodoo Doughnut], we had to figure if we could do it. So that was part of the research and I befriended some doughnut shops in TN and we looked for some products to help us up here and all that.
But yeah, we still have the first old fashioned we ever made. And that’s one of the things we do at all the shops, the first doughnut, which should be an old fashioned because that is just typically the front of the line. You make one of those and from the first batch you take one and put in the bag and keep it for posterity. And I got a couple in my filing cabinet right here from store openings [noises from what can be assumed a filing cabinet being opened] and you don’t do anything particularly with them but you do save them.
I didn’t know I would end up going to make a few million of them myself much less how many millions of doughnuts we have made in the last 13 years.
Spoon: How did you come up with the idea Voodoo Doughnut?
CD: Well I grew up in the south and one of the ideas I moved to Oregon with was a voodoo themed business, not even doughnuts. I mean we are talking the late 80s when I first had a voodoo idea. And so it was kind of always stuck in the back of my head. So when we were trying to come up with a name I kind of just brought it up and said Voodoo Doughnut. And everyone just kind of looked at me. And so I said “Why not Voodoo Doughnut?” And it has been our mantra ever since.
Spoon: Did you consider any other names?
CD: The only one was called “The Lonely O” because we were kind of in a lonely part of town. But then we thought, what if we don’t get busy? Then we are truly the lonely O. We would be hanging out all alone at The Lonely O.
Then I started pushing the voodoo.
Spoon: What is your favorite type of doughnut?
CD: The Old Fashioned. I have eaten a lot of doughnuts in my life. I mean I’m not a giant man but I have had my fair share of doughnuts. And one of the reasons why Voodoo Doughnut is 24 hours is because when I was a bartender back in the day you get off at 3 or 4 in the morning. And as you’re driving home, that is typically when these doughnuts are being made in your average doughnut shop. And you would drive by the place and the smell would bring you in. Whenever I did that I had a stoner rule: you go in and you get a glazed, a chocolate raised, and then one other doughnut. And the old fashioned weren’t really in there. But as I became a doughnut shop guy, I fell in love with the old fashion. It’s the first doughnut I ever made. It’s soft and crunchy, and it takes a little more finesse than a normal doughnut. Now it’s my favorite doughnut, and the first one I check every day too.
Spoon: Okay so if you had to pick – Dunkin Donuts or Krispy Kreme?
CD: Ooooo tough. I’ve been to both. I enjoyed them in my youth *huge sigh* but ya know, I’m a ma’ and pop guy. I would go to the ma’ and pop shop over either. I didn’t like the taste so much of the Dunkin. But the thing that would make me lean towards Krispy Kreme is the window. Ya know, the whole watching the robot. You can’t deny that when someone takes the doughnut right after that glazing waterfall and hands it to you, you could do that with a shoe and you would think it’s the best thing you ever had because it’s so fresh.
Spoon: Do you have any weird customer stories?
CD: I love that Weird Al waited in line. He didn’t play a celebrity card, he didn’t reach out to us. And he wasn’t there as Weird Al. He was there as a dad because his kid wanted to go. And I didn’t find out he was there until he was the third person in line and he had already waited half an hour.
Spoon: What is the weirdest food you have ever sold?
CD: The oyster doughnut. It was just silly and stupid. You would order the doughnut and we would say one moment please! And he would run three doors down to the oyster bar and they would shuck an oyster for us have an oyster ready for us. We would put it on a doughnut we brought, and add a little horse radish and cocktail sauce on it. And he would run back to the doughnut shop, put it on the counter and say thank you very much.
Oysters and doughnuts are not necessarily the best combination, but it was a cool concept.