Tres Shannon is anything but your typical doughnut salesman.
He’s the lead singer of a Rolling Stones cover band. A one-time mayoral candidate for the city of Portland, Oregon. A former punk rock club owner and operator. And the founder of one of the most memorable doughnut shops you’ve ever seen.
Since opening the first Voodoo Doughnut location in downtown Portland, Oregon in 2003—along with his partner in crime, Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson—the two have grown their unconventional doughnut empire across state lines and with nearly 100 employees. Not bad for a bakery that started out selling NyQuil Glazed doughnuts.
But how is it that in less than a decade, Voodoo Doughnut became a renowned tourist destination with a never-ending line that snakes around the block nearly 24 hours a day?
Perhaps more importantly, how did Tres and Cat Daddy pull this off without ever having made a doughnut before?
The Voodoo journey begins, like so many other great American stories, in the sun-drenched Los Angeles suburb of Pico Rivera, California. There, Tres and Cat Daddy refined their dough tossing and rolling skills amongst some very generous doughnut senseis. It wasn’t long before the two were injecting jelly and dusting sugar onto fried dough with the gusto and grace as those with decades of doughnut-making experience.
Within months of landing back on their home turf in Portland, the budding entrepreneurs went to work immediately building out their first doughnut shop in Portland’s Old Town neighborhood—also known as “The Crotch of Portland.”
Wedged between a seedy nightclub and a legendary adult theater, Voodoo Doughnut sent shockwaves through the city—and the food industry—when Tres and Cat Daddy first opened their doors in 2003. While the earliest customers were certainly expecting an unusual doughnut experience, they certainly weren’t expecting to see what Tres and Shannon had placed on the rotating doughnut display case.
From the NyQuil Glazed doughnut (with an additional shot of NyQuil placed in the doughnut hole), to the Vanilla Crushed Tums doughnut, and even an actual voodoo doll doughnut (pretzel stake through the chest included), it was clear from the get-go that Tres and Cat Daddy had absolutely zero plans of becoming your typical suburban America strip mall doughnut joint.
“The NyQuil one was kind of a lark, but that’s the one that got the most famous,” explained Cat Daddy in an interview with the Believer.
“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.”
Unsurprisingly, Portland’s health department eventually had to step in to control the unconventional choices in doughnut toppings after a few months. But like true innovators, the watchful eye of Johnny Law merely poured more gas on their creative fire.
From the Old Dirty Bastard (chocolate frosting, Oreo cookies, and peanut butter) and the Oh Captain, My Captain (vanilla frosting and Captain Crunch cereal) to the original Bacon Maple Bar and the Maple Blazer Blunt (a doughnut rolled into a blunt and dusted with cinnamon sugar. The top is dipped in maple frosting with red sprinkle embers), nearly every doughnut on Voodoo’s menu is an experiment in breaking down the walls of conventionalism with sugar and dough.
Which is exactly why people came from all corners of the world to eat them.
As news of Voodoo Doughnuts spread around the world—Jay Leno, Anthony Bourdain, and Brad Pitt have all tasted a Voodoo masterpiece—lines that took hours to get through began rolling around city blocks and the shop earned its place on multiple travel blogs. Even Portland’s crummy weather couldn’t keep the pilgrims away.
According to Tres, “People have talked about Voodoo Doughnut in Tibet (and on) Easter Island. Japan has some stylish folks sporting the latest Voodoo underpants and friends have even shared a buttermilk bar in Tanzania.”
It may not come as a huge surprise, then, that the company has expanded their Voodoo juju to over seven locations including a recent addition to the Universal CityWalk in Hollywood, California. And for those with hearts full of love and cholesterol, Tres will even help you get hitched or renew your vows at the Shrine of Voodoo—complete with a pink box of a dozen doughnuts as a wedding gift.
From the Voodoo Doughnut website:
Still in sticker shock after getting a $1000 quote on a wedding cake? Your guests will talk about your amazing doughnut presentation for years to come. Make your wedding a memorable event that no one will forget at Voodoo Doughnut.
But would you really come to expect anything different from a couple of guys that launched a doughnut empire by breaking all the rules? Maybe there’s a lesson in here for all of us.