On a brisk, sunny Saturday afternoon in October, I found myself in downtown Portland, standing at the end of a line with more than 150 other people, all of whom, including me, were waiting with the same purpose in mind – to fill a pink cardboard box full of quirkily-named, uniquely flavored pastries from Voodoo Doughnuts.
As I waited in line (for 44 minutes, to be exact), I chatted up a group in front of me, a family of five from France who had spent the week exploring Seattle and Portland, and were headed back home that evening. After helping them with what I quickly discovered was an obligatory family photo in front of the glitter-painted building with the neon Voodoo Doughnuts sign overhead, we exchanged pleasantries and I learned that they’d intentionally planned their Voodoo Doughnut visit for the last day of their trip, thus allowing them to tote a couple of pink boxes home to share a bit of Portland culture with friends and family.
Behind me, in contrast, was a family from Japan with two teenage boys. They’d arrived from Japan via Los Angeles the week before and had spent their first American adventure driving up the coast from Los Angeles to Portland touring colleges. With stops at USC, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Stanford, UO, and OSU, they had timed their Voodoo Doughnuts visit to coincide with their return departure home. After their little donut jaunt, they would be driving straight to PDX to catch their late evening flight home to Tokyo.
Hearing these stories, I asked myself, why is Voodoo Doughnuts such a popular place? Sure, it’s a social media phenomenon, and clearly, people from all over the world stand in line to fill pink boxes with unique pastry creations in order to then Snapchat or Instagram their experience upon leaving the shop. But what is the secret to the Voodoo Doughnut success? Could it be their catch phrase, “The magic is in the hole”? Was it the fact that the donuts, while incredibly popular, are also rather affordable? Was it the over-the-top explosion of pink combined with an ingenuity of flavors that brought people from all over the world to the store? What makes a donut shop in a less than desirable area of Portland such a hit that people clamor from all over the world to visit it?
As I walked away from my little adventure to downtown Portland with more questions than answers, I held tight my own pink box full of deep-fried, uniquely flavored delights. With a donut shop boasting over the top pink walls, stained glass windows, crystal chandeliers, loud music, curiously dressed employees, and spinning pie case full of pastries, Voodoo Doughnuts exemplifies the unique and attracts the curious from all over the world, and maybe that’s all I needed to know. If you haven’t yet stood in line to embrace the experience that is Voodoo Doughnuts, pop on up to Portland and pick up your own infamous pink box of goodness. You won’t regret it.