It’s a busy Friday night and I’m watching Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson slather fresh hot strawberry fritters with some strong-wristed ladle action. We’re in the cramped work area of a shop that’s quickly becoming legendary: Voodoo Doughnut. I ask Pogson what doughnut creations haven’t worked out. He mentions something called a Seven-Layer doughnut. “It was just too hard to make—a plain cake with seven damn things on it.” Then there’s the Red Bull Glazed doughnut with powdered sugar. “I’m not sure how much Red Bull you got out of it,” he says.
Two of the shop’s claims to infamy were the Nyquil Glazed doughnut and the Vanilla Pepto Crushed Tums doughnut, until health officials told them to stop making them. “The Nyquil one was kind of a lark, but that’s the one that got the most famous. With the Pepto doughnut, I honestly thought if you had that shot of tequila you shouldn’t have at 2:00 a.m., and then you got sugar, bread, Pepto, and Tums, you’d either feel better or puke your ass off and then feel better because you got it out of your system. So it was a win-win either way.”
Opened in May of 2003, Voodoo Doughnut operated during vampire hours—open all night and closed during the day—until it recently expanded its hours. The shop often serves people taking breaks between bands or drinks in the heart of Portland’s downtown club scene. The building is roughly a hundred years old. One former tenant in the neighborhood was the X-Ray Café, an all-ages club run by Tres Shannon, who now manages Voodoo Doughnut with Pogson. Shannon also hosts a karaoke night at the club across the street, and he’s Mick Jagger in a Rolling Stones tribute band. “I don’t write songs; I just cover songs,” he says. “I’m kind of a poser, really.”
One annual event worth considering is the Voodoo Doughnut Cock Fest. Pogson explains: “The stage (which looms over the single bathroom) is closed off by curtains so (participants) have privacy. We provide them with a video and dirty magazines so they can prepare. Then they stack as many doughnuts as they can on their dicks. When the curtains open, they show how many they’re holding.” The winner earns fifty dollars and a “Cock and Balls doughnut” (a triple cream–filled phallic pastry). The small shop (the capacity is fifteen, though naturally many more can be crammed in) plays host to other odd events. “We’ve had eleven-year-old punk bands, puppet shows, storytellers, and Janet from Sleater-Kinney did a one-hour drum solo once,” says Shannon. They also host monthly doughnut-eating contests, weekly Swahili lessons, and garish wedding ceremonies. “I’ve done about four hundred ceremonies,” says Pogson, an ordained minister.“ About forty of them have been legit.”
But even with all the hoopla, he says the doughnuts come first. “It’s all P.T. Barnum; it’s all the show. But you have to have a good product, number one.” Many doughnuts feature breakfast cereal or candy. The Triple Chocolate Penetration is a chocolate cake doughnut with chocolate frosting and Cocoa Puffs on top. The Butter Fingering consists of devil’s food, vanilla frosting, and crushed Butterfingers. My favorite is something called a No Name. It’s chocolate frosting on a raised doughnut with peanut butter and Rice Krispies.
A recent creation is the Maple Baby Blunt, a cigar-shaped pastry with either pink or blue sprinkles. They’re passed out at hospitals when a baby is born: “Because you can’t smoke cigars in hospitals,” Pogson says.
In the span of just over an hour, I’ve heard so many odd stories about the shop, I’m not sure how to fit them onto one magazine page. There’s the recent Mudhoney video shoot/food fight, the impressive bathroom mural made entirely of duct tape, the appearances on the Food Network and Good Morning America, the documentary film, and the Voodoo Doughnut theme song, written by their janitor, a Special Olympics medalist who often cleans in the buff. As it says over their door, The Magic is in the Hole.