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Hit-Or-Miss

Free Range LA’s Head Chef Makes A Meal Using Only Ingredients From Artist Travis Millard’s Kitchen

In The Hundreds’ latest series, “Wingin’ It,” we invite Chef Jesse Furman, the Chief Clucker (aka head chef) at Free Range LA, into our friends’ homes to whip up a work-of-art with whatever’s on hand.

For this inaugural episode of “Wingin’ It,” Jesse enters the home—and pantry—of artist Travis Millard. Jesse whips up what we’ve decided to call the “Travis Red Hill Sausage Sandwich,” complete with celery, pickled peppers, and way too much salt that Jesse haphazardly spilled all over the sandwich. Take a bite out of this one with us.

Categories
Hit-Or-Miss

7 Los Angeles Restaurants Hip-Hop Has Shown Mad Love To

Whether it’s upscale Japanese dining with an ocean view or chicken and waffles in the heart of Hollywood, rappers seem to enjoy food as much as women, weed, and weather. Why else would some of rap’s biggest names, like Kendrick Lamar and Biggie, name-drop their favorite Los Angeles restaurants in their classic hits? Keep reading to find out more about the local eateries immortalized in these tracks:

 

Church’s Chicken

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Where: Church’s Chicken, Compton

Song: “Backseat Freestyle” by Kendrick Lamar

Lyric: “Park it in front of Lueders, next to that Church’s Chicken

There’s a lot of bomb fried chicken in Kendrick Lamar’s hometown, but Church’s Chicken gets the shout-out in his song – for good reason. If you’re in the mood for tender, juicy thighs encased in crisp, flavorful skin – the kind greasy enough to soak through the bag – and biscuits with a fluffy, sponge-like consistency, this place hits the spot. Sure, the rapper talks a big game in “Backseat Freestyle” about wanting money and power, but we get the feeling fried chicken is up there too.

Nobu

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Where: Nobu, Malibu

Song: “Who Do You Love?” by YG feat. Drake

Lyric: “Eatin’ crab out in Malibu at Nobu

In this club banger, perhaps it’s less about whom Drizzy loves, but rather what he loves – to eat, that is. Answer: the crab at Nobu’s beachfront location. Our favorite woe doesn’t specify which dish he likes to order there, so it’s a toss-up between the lightly battered king crab tempura, the creamy snow crab, or the off-menu baked crab hand roll. But really, anything tastes good accompanied by a Pacific Ocean view.

Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles

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Where: Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘n Waffles, Los Angeles

Song: “Going Back to Cali” by Notorious B.I.G.

Lyric: “Frequently floss hoes at Roscoe’s”

Biggie boasted about how he got away with taking dates to one of LA’s most beloved fast-food chains, Roscoe’s. (And in “All That (Lady),” The Game called out a specific Roscoe’s on Pico for when he’s “in a hood mood.”) But despite the joint’s consistently delicious soul food – chicken and waffle combos, hot water cornbread, grits, and gravy-smothered potatoes – we can’t guarantee you’ll achieve Big Poppa-level success with the ladies here.

In-N-Out

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Where: In-N-Out, Los Angeles

Song: “Hit the J” by The Game

Lyric: “Never take her out to Crustacean, it be In-N-Out

Again, a rapper eschews a fine dining establishment, like Vietnamese fusion spot Crustacean, in favor of a fast-food joint on a date. Thankfully, we don’t have any beef with In-N-Out’s pillowy, spongy buns and special sauce-smothered patties – so The Game’s partiality is a plus in our book.

FatBurger

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Where: Fatburger, Los Angeles

Song: “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube

Lyric: “No helicopter looking for a murder / 2 in the morning, got the Fatburger

For decades, rappers have waxed poetic about Fatburger. Both Biggie and Tupac endorsed the fast-food chain (in “Going Back to Cali” and “Late Night,” respectively), and Ice Cube couldn’t resist a mention in his iconic hit. He’s right: There’s really nothing better late at night than Fatburger’s giant grease bombs, which typically include a highly seasoned patty and a fried egg.

Spago

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Where: Spago, Beverly Hills

Song: “Men of Steel” by B-REAL

Lyric: “Never up in Spago’s when we knock hoes

Wolfgang Puck’s ultra-famous Spago gets some love in this jam. It’s not all about burgers and fried chicken; some rappers, like B-REAL, also appreciate seasonal Californian cuisine, especially in the form of delicate fare like seared halibut and sautéed broccolini.

Mr. Chow

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Where: Mr Chow, Beverly Hills

Song: “Started From the Bottom (Remix)” by Drake feat. Machine Gun Kelly, Meek Mill, and Wiz Khalifa

Lyric: “In the cloud smokin’ loud on my way to Mr Chow’s

Smoking some chron before sitting down to dinner at Mr Chow – à la Meek Mill – doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. All the better to whet your appetite for the restaurant’s dressed-up Chinese menu, including hand-pulled noodles and their perfected take on crunchy-skinned Peking duck.

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Written by Tiffany Tse of The Hundreds

Categories
Products

DANESON :: Launching A Liquor-Laced Toothpick Company In A Recession

Written by Mac Sandefur of The Hundreds

I never thought that I would knuckle-utter these digi-letters, but I’m impressed by a company that makes toothpicks. And, that’s probably because said high-end toothpick purveyor is being tenaciously thrust onward with an impressive captain at the helm, Peter Smith, a former finance executive who quit a lucrative job in London to pursue his dreams of making something tangible.

From a padded life in Europe, to his parents’ basement in Ontario, Peter did what he had to do to make a statement with Daneson, executed with painstaking attention to detail, quality of ingredients, and strategic distribution. Stocked in 200 accounts worldwide, having first taken its stride into retail with the likes of colette, Daneson is as carefully developed as its founder is passionate about his creations.

I had the recent opportunity to catch up with Peter Smith to shed a little light on what goes in to developing a Daneson.

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Peter gives a brief history of toothpicks.

“I find this bores people, but for someone like you, you’ll probably find this interesting. There’s this professor at Duke University, this professor of Engineering, who wrote a tome on toothpicks. It’s like a 400-page book. He goes through the whole history, and there’s this long history of humans using toothpicks; it’s literally one of the first tools. It pre-dates the wheel, it pre-dates fire.

What’s also really cool is that the toothpick was among the first commercial, mass-marketed, mass-produced products in US history. Back in 1870, this guy named Forster, who was making wooden pegs for shoes, found a way of making quality toothpicks in mass quantities, and his whole marketing strategy was to give them out to restaurants, and he then paid Harvard students to go to these restaurants, order food, and then ask for his toothpicks at the end of the meal.

It was sort-of the first Harvard business case study kind of thing. And, I don’t know how much of this is legend or what, but that spiraled into toothpicks becoming this status symbol. You have to understand, this was a time when people didn’t really eat out very often. This was a time when people couldn’t afford to eat meat very often. So, toothpicks became a status symbol. They’d say, ‘I’m a dandy, I’m a guy out on the town. I can afford to eat out.’ It was a way of symbolizing to the rest of the world that you could afford a nice meal.”

“What the hell is a dandy,” I pondered inquisitively. Here’s what Google replied:

“A man unduly devoted to style, neatness, and fashion in dress and appearance.” In other words, crispy™.

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On piquing his interest.

“I lived in the UK for ten years, I was living in London and elsewhere in Europe, working in finance, and man, I was just not happy. I wasn’t happy with what I was doing in life. I was one of those guys who was often in boardrooms talking about deals and efficiencies, classic corporate BS.

I really wanted to start my own business. And, since I had not hit my stride in finance around until 2007, right at the beginning of the crash, I never had a massive payday. So, I didn’t have a ton of money, but I knew I wanted to make something, and I wanted it to be something physical. And, one day, I had this brain-wave.”

The same day that Peter accepted a new job opportunity in London that was too good to pass up, and coincidentally the first day of the financial crisis, this van drove by. And, if you’re a supplier, like a butcher, in the UK, and you supply to the crown, you get to put their royal warrant on your packaging and delivery vehicle to say, “I’m the best butcher in town. I provide the Prince of Wales with his meat.”

And, after remembering his grandmother’s affinity for toothpicks, and sharing a few premium Japanese toothpicks with some friends on a prior night out, his passion surfaced. The delivery van drives by, he has the royal warrant, and the lightbulb goes off.

“I started digging in in 2008, and it took 3 years to assemble everything and figure out, Can this be done?

So, I held a job from 2008 through to 2011. And, the entire time I was working in finance, I was working on toothpicks on the side. In 2011, I quit on good terms, incorporated Daneson, and started going. And, that’s why, if you look at our website, it says we founded in 2011. Because that’s when I sort-of dropped everything, spread clear the desk, and said, ‘OK, let’s make these things, let’s figure this out.’”

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On the challenges of making a real product.

“Here’s the deal. Of all the other toothpicks out there, unless it’s tea tree or menthol,both of which are very medicinal tasting, if it’s anything else, it’s very likely an artificial flavor, and we don’t do that.

Instead, Daneson toils on finding real ingredients like essential oils from Iran, Kentucky bourbon, and Islay whiskey, infused for a slightly startling, but refreshing uncorking, when you realize that it’s hardly a toothpick at all.

“The hardest part is the flavoring – the recipes. We’ve made a recipe, bottled sticks up, and then honestly, two months later, we have to throw them away because the flavoring dissipates into nothing.

And, I’ve cold-called university professors to ask if they knew anyone with the knowledge to do this. It’s one of these things where you talk to someone whose a flavoring scientist or expert, and they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s no problem, we’ll get it done in a week,’ and months later they call saying, ‘No, we can’t figure it out.’

Long story short, since it’s all natural ingredients, it takes a long time and a lot of work to nail down one of our recipes.”

And they are not cheap ingredients.

“Insanely expensive. An ingredient like cinnamon oil can be on-par with a very fine spirit in terms of cost, people don’t get it. There is a huge expense to using natural ingredients. And your average Joe who has grown up on artificial flavors will think – whatever. It’s like liquid gold.

I’ve got thousands of dollars of vials of essential oils. Probably about ten grand worth of samples.”

People aren’t used to spending $36 on a case of toothpicks.

“People think I’m making an insane amount of money everytime they buy something from us. My answer is no. Or put it this way – I live in my parents’ basement. It’s the cost of doing business the way you want to do business. If I made the product in Asia, I might be living in an apartment right now.”

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And, despite high operating costs, Daneson has a quiet program that replants forests in an effort to ensure total sustainability.

“We’re a business that tries really hard to make a difference and do things the right way. A principled way. We allocate 1% of revenue to replanting trees, not because it’s a cool marketing story, but because that’s what you do when you make things from wood. It’s not rocket science. The only difference is we aim to plant more than we use.”

A fitting scenario.

“What I miss the most about living in the UK and Europe – meals. Meals were this thing that you experienced. People would not look at their phones. Often, a Sunday lunch would kick off at noon, and it wouldn’t be unusual for it to end at eleven at night. The entire time, you’d be sitting around a table eating amazing food, drinking great wine, and just hanging out.

Nobody would be talking about remodeling their kitchen, or how they have to pick up their dry cleaning, or their kids. It was just people in the moment having fun. That was the kind of experience I envisioned when I started Daneson. It’s the experience, not really what you order, but the conversation and who you have it with.”

The result of Peter’s vision, a meticulously crafted product, symptomatic of a strong desire to do things the hard way. Eventually, Peter strives to see Daneson as a product that is identified separately from the standard toothpick, a Daneson, offered at restaurants and premium retailers around the world.

::

You can get your Daneson toothpicks here.

Written by MAC SANDEFUR of The Hundreds || Photos by Si Hoang.

Categories
Features

Best Things I Ate in Los Angeles in 2014

Written by Jesse Furman, NYC-raised LA-based entrepreneur and professional cook.

2014 was the year of breakfast. From the taco bell breakfast wrap to the fancy egg and cheese being touted across LA, and the influx of artisanal bakeries with fresh coffee. Brunching became a craze, and you can see a lot of my list of best things I ate belonged with eggs or dishes of that morning nature. However, there are many other one bites or mains that have made the cut from some of the most exciting restaurants, kiosks, cafes, and taco stands. Enjoy!

 

CLAM POZOLE AT RUSTIC CANYON

This dish arrives as a curveball on this Santa Monica’s local farm-centric restaurant. Everything you love about pozole verde, but with seafood added and vibrant green broth made with some of the state’s best produce.

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VEAL TARTARE AT BESTIA

Taking a bite into this toast is a revelation.  The house-made sourdough is char-grilled and then slathered in delicate young veal meat and then spread with a traditional sauce made from tuna, giving a whole new name to surf and turf!

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BEEF TENDON CURRY AT NIGHT MARKET

Many restaurants are preparing this underground cut of beef with a deeply rich imagination. But the beef tendon floating in this ridiculous curry broth is stupid good. It is served with ROTI, a deep fried flatbread. Rip a piece off and dunk it in the pool of deliciousness. Game over.

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CHARCOAL POTATOES AT INK

Known for its whim and wizardry, ink’s kitchen of food magicians concoct a riff on a loaded baked potato. In this variation, they roast baby potatoes and roll it in green onion ash, making the potatoes look like little pieces of charcoal, which are served with a whipped sour cream and a spray bottle the size of a Binaca filled with tangy vinegar to spritz on the tasty spuds.

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FRENCH TOAST AT SYCAMORE KITCHEN

Not just the best French toast in 2014, but the best French toast I have ever eaten.  This breakfast dish was handed down by the heavens. Thick-cut house made brioche, the inside soft and custardy and the out bruléed with sugar ‘till it is crispy and caramelized. It’s topped with a sweet apple slaw and a hefty dollop of fresh whipped cream.

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SCRAMBLED EGGS AND MUSHROOM TOAST AT REPUBLIQUE

Beautifully scrambled farm fresh eggs, topped with sliced ham, sautéed wild mushrooms, and a red wine sauce drizzled all over the top.  The earthiness, the saltiness, the umami flavor – it’s phenomenal. Read my interview with Republique’s own Walter Manzke here.

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PORK BELLY CHICHARRON AT BAR AMA

When you can make a chicharron arrive to your table warm and crisp on the outside and pure oozy fatty on the inside, it’s almost like you’re eating a whole stick of bone marrow. This savory bar comes jutting out of a pool of thin salsa verde. You have to order this indulgent bite.

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BBQ SPARE RIBS AT BLUDSOS

Peppery, smokey, slightly sweet, this Hollywood Annex to the Compton Pit Master slow cooks pork ribs in a smoker and never sells day olds. Come in and order a whole rack and a side of pickles. Done.

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WELSH RAREBIT AT THE PIKEY

This dish should be #1 just based on simplicity and reward. It’s a piece of toast with gravy made with Guinness and cheese that is charred on top!

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TURKEY LEG AT ANIMAL

If you love the novelty of chomping on one of these bad boys at Medieval Times or at the Los Angeles County Fair, then you will obsess about this fried turkey leg, served in a sweet glaze with a white BBQ sauce. It’s refined barbaric.

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BUTTER TOFFEE COOKIE AT COFFEE COMMISSARY

Naomi Shim is a genius with sugar, and when she gets inspired she plays with brown and dark sugars in amazing ways. Her toffee cookie is crunchy and caramelizes at the bottom. So every bite reminds you of a soft buttery cookie simultaneously with crisp toffee candy. You can check out her recipe for puff pastry and my interview with her here on TheHundreds.com.

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PASTRAMI SANDWICH AT WEXLER’S DELI

This crew at the Grand Central Market has matched the quality found at Jewish delis that hold legacies for decades – and if they haven’t matched it, then they have surpassed it with the pastrami sandwich. Their smoked fish that is sliced paper thin and topped with fresh onion is also delicious.

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FRENCH FRIES AT SALT’S CURE

Crispy and Rustic. These are just the best fucking fries.

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FOCACCIA DE LENGURIA AT CHI SPACCA

This is a Italian bread, but not thick and fluffy. This focaccia is oily, thin, crispy, with a layer of fresh white cheese cooked inside the dough that is tossed fresh and cooked to order in a wood burning oven.

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SNICKERDOODLE ICE CREAM AT SALT & STRAW

This ice cream company from Portland makes the best tasting, most flavor-forward ice cream. The snickerdoodle cookie has that great cinnamon flavor and cookie taste.

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COOKIES & CREAM CONCRETE AT TOP ROUND

Delicious custard made the Dairy Queen. Topped with a thin wafer cookie, whipped cream, and optional birthday sprinkles – game, set, and match!

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CORN TAMALE AT MELROSE PLACE FARMER’S MARKET

If Joel Rubichon, master chef with Michelin Star restaurants, is notorious for making mashed potatoes with equal parts butter and potato, then this tamale guy should be recognized for what seems to be equal parts masa and lard. Just so soft and flavorful. You might ask yourself if this is the best tamale you’ve ever eaten.

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GRILLED QUAIL EGG AT KOKEKOKKO

It’s a light poached little egg on a Japanese skewer cooked in a little charcoal flame and the yolk is perfectly cooked medium. Mind changing. Check out my write-up of my trip to KokeKokko, its exclusivity, and my first taste of raw chicken here.

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AL PASTOR EMPANADA AT EL TORO TACO TRUCK

Make fresh masa tortilla and fill it with spit-roasted pork, pineapple, and cheese then fry. These emapañadas are the size of your hand and they stretch and ooze like a Mexican hot pocket insanity.

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SALSA ROJA AT EL TAURINO

This salsa is thick, not watered down, and it tastes of the earth with guaijllos, and then it rings your spice meter with habaneros. I am not quite sure, but it’s pasty and more tasty than another salsa I ever had.

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Written by The Hundreds’ Jesse Furman, NYC-raised LA-based entrepreneur and professional cook.

Categories
Sweets

A Look Inside the Biggest, Baddest Candy Store in Los Angeles

Originally written by Bobby Hundreds for The Hundreds

Every Halloween, I head down to Jack’s Wholesale, the biggest and best candies wholesale purveyor in the city to stock up on trick-or-treat supplies.  They moved into an even larger facility this year, so I wanted to take you on a tour of our most hyperactive childhood memories.  Mexican candies, American chocolates, Japanese snacks, Jack’s has got it all – even candy cigarettes, which I thought were outlawed in 1987.

Each aisle is dedicated to a niche sweet tooth. There’s a rock candy aisle, a sour aisle, there’s a section just for breath mints and gum.  There’s candy I never heard of, then there are the ones I spent my entire 6th grade year consuming, like Big League Chew and Bubble Tape.  My favorite lane is dedicated to gummies – Gummi hamburgers, pizzas, hot dogs, and gummi bears the size of your head.  Don’t be boring with your Tootsie Rolls and Krackels – you’re asking to get TPd.  Check out Jack’s. There’s even a DJ in the parking lot.

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About a $100…

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Originally written by Bobby Hundreds for The Hundreds

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More dope The Hundreds articles you should read:

– Keep On Truckin’ :: Seoul Sausage

My Five Favorite Restaurants at the Farmer’s Market

Goat Roast :: A Midwestern Goodbye to Summer

Categories
Hit-Or-Miss

An Intimate Look at Dinner on a Pizza Farm

Written by Tucker Gerrick

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Made where it’s grown” is as much the mantra as it is a rally cry or a figurative flag in the sand for the folks behind Stockholm, Wisconsin’s A to Z Produce and Bakery. Opened in 1998 and more commonly known in the last 10 years as “The Pizza Farm” it has spawned many recent imitators, but is the long-standing original in this neck of the woods. For me, as a certifiable pizza freak, when I finally heard about it the first time some 8 or so years ago, it seemed as if there might actually be a heaven, and if so, it was only a couple hours’ drive up and around the St. Croix river into Wisconsin. The trip had to happen, and had to continue to happen again and again as the years went by. This summer marks my bazillionth visit and my 7th year making the trip (I only missed one while living in Long Beach, for the record).

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The farm is only open for pizza nights on Tuesdays from 4:30-8pm and only between March and October. (Though, both March and October are likely too cold/wet for most to attend. Consider yourself amongst the diehards if you find yourself visiting then.)

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Rain or shine, pizza night goes down every Tuesday. The grounds surrounding the various buildings are typically littered with anyone from couples on dates, entire extended families, rotary clubs, and a broad selection of hip young folk from all the relatively close-ish metro areas. In other words, everyone loves pizza (duh).

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The bathrooms are more like outhouses. There’s a bucket of bran in one of them to keep it natural and fresh in there. Depending on the # of your business, it’s 1 or 2 scoops, FYI.

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Having tested the fences on prior trips, I had to grab a wire this last visit to prove to a friend that they were, in fact, not live. Well, I was wrong this time.

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As a rule from the beginning, it was always BYOE or bring your own everything. Tables, chairs, cutlery, drinks… all of it. And you even have to bring your trash home with you. Sadly, “The Man” finally caught onto the extraordinary time folks were having out here bringing their own alcoholic drinks and enjoying them under the radar. Last season, the farm acquired a beer and wine license, so you can pick from quite a selection right on site now (hella affordable, too, I might add).

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They’ve even got bubbles! The perfect pizza companion and a definite first choice when you bring a sommelier with (though, can we get some Roederer up in here?).

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Everyone loves a patio, a porch, or some sunny little corner they can post up and grab a relaxing bite or drink at. But I can’t think of a better background for enjoying pizza after pizza from an outdoor, wood-fired grill. The whole experience from start to finish is pretty epic.

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All the ingredients are grown on the farm. All of them. If it’s not ready or ripe, it’s not on the menu. The pizzas taste and smell so fresh you can only assume what you’re eating was still hanging off a vine or stem hours earlier. I always joke that it’s “so fresh you can taste the dirt still.”

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Arguably, the pizzas are sizable enough for 2-3 people. But no one drives all this way for just one.

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Crowds get to be so large that the wait to get your pizza by mid-July (peak season) can be upwards of more than an hour. Keep in mind these pizzas only take about 3-4 minutes to bake in the first place. A few years back, they added another oven to keep up with things.

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CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) are a pretty big deal in the Midwest, and A to Z offers a weekly one for pick up. They even do a couple for the holiday season.

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It really is a picture perfect scene. See you next summer!

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A to Z Produce and Bakery can be found in idyllic Stockholm, WI, at N2956 Anker Lane.

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More fun stories from The Hundreds:

– CHEF TOMMY ORTEGA OF AMOR Y TACOS ON THE FOOD BUSINESS

WHY FOODBEAST’S BEEF IS NOT MONGOLIAN

DIY TRUFFLED THEATRE POPCORN

Categories
Features

Voodoo Doughnut: How the Craziest Donut Shop Around Made the Most With the Yeast

Written by Luis Ruano

By now it’s no secret, Portland is slightly off-kilter and most of its residents wouldn’t have it any other way. A city that prides itself on its ever-evolving free spirit, this Pacific Northwest gem was just the place I needed to gain some inspiration for the past few days. Quite possibly everyone I know that’s spent some time in Portland can’t go a few sentences without mentioning Voodoo Doughnut, an institution that once made Anthony Bourdain feel ashamed of himself for loving so much. Intrigued by its continued popularity over the last decade and consistent line-ups for sugar-loaded delights, I made my way to the shop’s original location on 22 SW 3rd Ave. and paid a visit to one half of the founding duo, the warmly eccentric Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson.

Aside from its signature brand of product, which includes fan favorites like the bacon maple bar and blood-filled voodoo doll, Voodoo Doughnut has positioned itself as much more than just your local, wacky donut shop, slowly developing into a brand, adored not just within the states, but worldwide. Having recently announced the launch of Voodoo Doughnut Recordings, collaborations with several local companies and even mentions in The Simpsons, the story of co-founders Kenneth Pogson and Tres Shannon is yet another tale of the American dream, made possible though a series of fortunate events alongside plenty of imagination and hard work.

Pogson and I spoke about the rigors of dealing with such a trademark-heavy brand and how he’s managed to see progression in a company he would have never expected to reach the levels it has, including two storefronts in Portland, one in Eugene, Oregon and a fourth in Denver, Colorado.

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Voodoo Doughnut Co-founder Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson

THE OREGON TRAIL

LUIS: What initially brought you out to Portland?
KENNETH “CAT DADDY” POGSON: I was chasing tail. Someone who moved up here from Memphis and got a job dancing ballet. That didn’t work out and I almost got in my car and drove home. It was a couple of years, I gave it a good shot, and when it was over I almost drove off, but was like, “You know what? I like this place.” And I figured I’d give it six months, so I signed a six month lease and that was in ’91 or ’92.

And you’ve been here ever since?
Pretty much, I went back home to help my mom when she was dying and stuck around here for a while. I thought about staying, but once it was all over I was like, “I’ve got to get the hell out of here.” Then another time I went back for a little bit and that was the time. The first time I went back I had a mission. The second time I went back the day I got there I was like, “What the fuck am I doing here?” And it wasn’t long after that I came back and that was the path to this.

When I came back that time I laid it on the ground with a mission to open [my own business] and found my business partner. Not to open a donut shop, just to open and go into business and kind of be a bar because I had done that for the last 20 years. But opening a bar is twice as expensive as opening a donut shop. Daunting.

So we had the epiphany that there wasn’t a donut shop in downtown Portland and still no one can prove to me that there ever was. Plenty of donuts in town but the downtown core – couldn’t find anything in the city directory looking all the way back. So that got me to thinking and we ran with it.

That’s when the naysayers began.

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A LATE NIGHT IDEA TURNS INTO REALITY

I’m guessing you guys had zero experience making donuts?
We had absolutely no experience. Now, we had a lot of experience in some ways. I have lots of business experience – I have a degree in hospitality, my business partner ran a club for four years. We knew how to run a business, but neither of us knew how to make donuts. And even though I’ve been in hospitality since sixth grade, when I got my first job, I’ve always been closer to the front of the house. Whether I was managing or bartending.

Out of my 20 years’ experience before we opened, I’d worked a line, cooking probably six months out of that entire time. So I didn’t know how to cook professionally. That was definitely part of the challenge to it.

What I did is when I was back home in Memphis, my Dad forced some southern hospitality and just decided that he would call the local donut shop that we had been going to since I was a kid and said, “Hey, my son wants to open a donut shop in Portland, Oregon. Would you mind showing him the ropes?”

And the guy gracefully said yes. I think he was playing a little poker too because he said, “Yeah, sure, tell him to be there at 5 o’clock on Saturday morning.” And even though I hadn’t been in the business I knew that 5 o’clock on a Saturday morning is when the action is going on. It’s not that busy at that point but I knew that you had to be there, making product to sell for when it gets busy.

So I show up bright-eyed – well, I don’t know about bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 5 AM when I had been out partying the night before. But I showed up 10 minutes early, hung out, shook some hands, and helped out for two days. I didn’t do anything – I helped where I could, I washed dishes, and I watched.

Watching that guy – there was only one guy doing it – and probably what I would have two or three people doing at my place at this point. What I saw is that I could do this, I could figure it out. And not only could I figure out, but I could train my business partner who not only hadn’t done 20 years of hospitality, but didn’t even cook at home. I could teach this guy how to do it. That was the challenge of figuring it out.

So we did what I thought was a smart thing to do, we found a provider to sell us the product. We told him, “We’ve never done this so if you want us to do your product right, show us how to do it.” So we went to LA and for three days and took a crash course with three guys. They had 150 years experience between them making donuts and pastries. They eventually set us loose and we came back here saying, “What the hell are we doing?”

How did opening day go?
I’ll never forget the opening day asshole move I pulled. While you’re learning to make donuts, you don’t make 5,000 donuts – you make maybe 300 donuts. So on opening day, I’m dreaming big and I take the whole 50 pound bag and throw it in the mixer. “I’m going to make the biggest batch ever, I’m going to rule the donut world!” This is day three or something like that.

It would’ve been all right if I had put the dough hook on the 80 quart mixer instead of the paddle that I put on the 80 quart mixer. I almost broke the mixer, things started grinding, and I’m looking at it, “What the hell? What the hell?” I realized I put the paddle on. There’s the first 50 pound batch that was destroyed and thrown away.

And then what you also find out when you throw out a 50 pound bag of yeast is that yeast expands. So you put it in the garbage can but then the garbage can turns into a cupcake.

All the problems we had were donut problems. Learning the process of that and getting used to that. Marketing and business we nailed from the get go; we never had a problem with that. We’re hams for the camera, we both had been on stage for the last year doing what we do and both of us had a microphone in our hands and we were talking donuts, talking donuts, talking donuts. So that wasn’t a problem, but the donut errors were a hit and miss at the beginning.

We grasped it pretty quick. It’s a simple process. It is chemistry, there is some chemistry in there, and you’ve got to nail that as simple as it is. That’s hard to teach people, that you have to do step one and two before three. If you skip 2 then 3 doesn’t happen because of the chemistry. But we’ve pushed hard on that and got over that.

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The famous raspberry “blood-filled” Voodoo Doll donut

 

A HEALTHIER ALTERNATIVE

Does a “healthy” donut actually exist?
Yes, we call it the vegan donut. That’s a yes and no question. Vegan donuts don’t have any animal products in them at all, but they’re still chock full of sugar, they’re still fried in oil; which is not good for you. That’s about as healthy as we can get.

You can take the sugar out, and then it doesn’t taste like a donut. You can make them smaller to have less calories, but you’re still eating a donut. You could try and go gluten-free but – number one, if you’re truly gluten free, then you shouldn’t even walk into my shop; if you’re celiac, if you truly have that disease, you shouldn’t walk into my shop because there is flour dust no matter what. Therefore, if I made gluten-free products in the shop, then there would be flour dust on them.

We did experiment just to try and make some gluten-free [donuts]. You need those glutens, that’s the rubber band that holds the bread together that makes the donut. I know that we’re not selling a healthy product, but my thing is that moderation is the key to the magic in the hole – a treat every now and again is okay. You should not eat a donut every day. I’ll be the first to say that: Don’t come and have a donut every day!

They would’ve probably killed me in the twenties and thirties and forties during war time when that was a staple and they did eat donuts every day. Our modern society doesn’t need a donut every day. But you know what? A treat every now and again, I believe, is okay.

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The Simpsons find inspiration from Voodoo Doughnut for its Portlandia takeover episode

NYQUIL DONUTS AND THE SIMPSONS

Obviously the shop’s been featured on a ton of shows, but for you, when was the moment where you were like, “Cool, we made it, this is awesome.”
Yeah, we were actually on the 20th anniversary special [of The Simpsons] with Morgan Spurlock. He came to interview us just because we’re in Portland and did crazy donuts. Then because of that, that was five years ago, so just a couple weeks ago we did a 25th anniversary special on German TV. It wasn’t an authorized The Simpsons deal but the show was doing a, “It’s been 25 years!“ So they flew their host to Portland. I’ve dealt with a few of these international interviews, they fly people to Portland for 36 hours and fly them back; it’s insane.

They spend more time traveling here than they actually spend here. They came in and wham-bammed. We talked donuts, we talked Simpsons, we made Simpsons donuts, and all that type of stuff.

The first one, though, locally, we were on the front page of The Living Section because of our NyQuil donut. “Night of the NyQuil Donut” was the title of the article. It was written in an E.E. Cummings style so the article was actually shaped in a circle like a donut and hide Tres and I’s ugly mug in there. I forgot I had performed a wedding that night beforehand and had put black lipstick on for this wedding. And forgot about it so it was barely on and I’m posing for the cameras and totally forgot about it until I saw it on the front page of Living Section.

That was cool locally. That was like, “Man, we’re going to get press.” But the national one that really blew my mind was a few months later. We got a call around 9 at night from people on the East Coast who were watching the Tonight Show and Jay Leno made a joke. He didn’t mention Voodoo Doughnut specifically, but mentioned, “A donut shop in Portland, Oregon is putting caffeine in their donuts so I guess you can stay awake for your heart surgery.” Pretty lame joke, but the phones rang off the hook.

It went nuts, it got a lot of attention from a lot of people, and then we started doing a lot more national press.

Around what year was this?
This was, I want to say, the first summer in, so within three or four months of opening. So shortly after that, we went out on the wire, which is such an old term now with this modern age. But when it went out on the wire, it went nuts. We started doing radio interviews all over the states and Tres and I just thought it was funny because we were still working 18 hour days then. So we ended up doing morning shows all over America, and I think it worked out too because everyone wanted us up at 3 in the morning to do East Coast. We were working so [hard]. “We don’t have to get up. Just call us at work, we’ll just stop for a few minutes and do the interview.”

I feel like since then we’ve just tried to keep up with the ball and answer the phone. We’ve gotten a little more selective about who we will and won’t talk to simply more on the time scale. High summer and stuff, it better be a pretty big deal for us to stop. Because stopping anything during summer is really hard for everybody.

But yeah, it started then and then it just kept going. Magazines, television, international, movies – no good movies yet. A lot of B movies we’ve done stuff in. A lot of big television that’s been in town, they usually show up and – I feel like we play it cool because we’re not the people who, “Hey, Portlandia is coming to town. Call them!” That’s the lamest sales move ever. That’s part of my sales philosophy, that I feel like I’m selling a Cadillac or – I guess probably not a good word now, but selling a Toyota or something like that.

People want it and come to you. I don’t like going out and trying to do a sales pitch, that’s not my style and I’m not a good salesman that way. But we run a circus, which attracts people. I’ve said this a gazillion times, a circus is easy for me and Tres. A circus is really easy to go crazy with, but you’ve got to walk off with a good donut at the end otherwise everybody will show up once. You’ve got to get them to come back. They’ve got to leave with a good donut and a big smile.

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Bacon Maple Bar alongside Rogue Bacon Maple Ale

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF BRANDING

Your branding is awesome. How much of an emphasis did you put on it from the beginning?
It’s huge, but we didn’t know anything from the beginning. The day we opened we had the logo: The baron on the donut, that’s the official logo. That’s one of our brands for sure. We only opened up with the logo, [with] “Good things come in pink boxes,” and “The magic’s in the hole.” And those were awesome, I thought they were great. But then we were lucky enough to have the council of our longtime lawyer, who at the very beginning, was only working for lunches. We’d take him to lunch and we’d get a lunch worth of free advice, until he finally said, “Boys, you’re beyond lunch and we’re a little bit beyond champagne dinner, we need to actually do some work here.”

So we finally got into the lawyer aspect and coincidentally our first lawyer is a trademark branding lawyer. So he was on our shoulders the whole time, “Protect, protect, protect, protect.” And he has been there to protect us while we have come up with the wacky ideas… I think we own 35 trademarks now.

We’d been buying up our name wherever we could and when I opened the place, I wanted to buy a house and I had kids, I wanted to raise my kids – that was my goal. Then that happened and things got much bigger than that.

So we have been looking at the bigger picture not only for – as we’ve jokingly always said – “world donut domination,” but just to protect ourselves because people are ripping us off left and right. Kroger puts cereal on their donuts now, everybody’s putting bacon on donuts now.

Its kind of tough to legally defend that, no?
No, I can’t copyright putting bacon on a donut. But, I can copyright “The magic is in the hole,” and Voodoo Doughnut and everything that belongs to that. I just need to try and stay ahead of the curve now that everybody’s doing what we’ve done. But protecting the brand is a big part of the issue now and if you don’t – if you let one slide that’s right in your face – that will be the next person’s excuse when you try to sue them or get mad at them for doing something.

There was someone who tried to open “Hoodoo Donuts” somewhere and we kept an eye on them for sure. Might’ve gotten into them, but they never got open. They had their signs up, they rented a place, this was in Memphis, Tennessee – which of course, all my friends in Memphis started letting me know about that so I kept an eye on it. But a lot of it is the marketing-branding that you have to look out for. People who will take a picture of that sign and then sell it. That bothers me. That sign is copyrighted – the sign itself is copyrighted as an image. And it’s a fine line, who do you get pissed at? If an artist comes here and paints that sign and sells that painting, then I don’t have that much of a problem compared to someone who comes to take a picture of it and sells 150 prints for $25 bucks a piece; that’s where I have a problem. Because they’re making money off my trademark.

There was somebody selling tiles. They were coasters but they were essentially tiles with that sticker on it. And they were flipping out offended that we were offended, and just like, “Well, screw you!” and I’m like, “Well, you’re making money off my product, you didn’t ask me for permission.” And when we asked them about it, we didn’t send them a cease and desist letter, we asked them about it. “You flipped out at me so you know what? Screw you, you can’t use it.”

So we go back and forth and we’ll try – I like the one that some tried where they’ll let them do it but as soon as they sell 25 prints, then they have to pay $100 a year or something. I’m kind of into that, it’s a small thing but at least it’s a contract that says we are in agreement that you can use our image for an extended time.

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JOYS OF BEING A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS OWNER

What brings you the most joy out of your business?
You know, there’s answers for all of that. Being successful on my own, running my own thing – tremendous joy. Money, yeah, fine, whatever. As they say, once you get money, it doesn’t mean anything. it doesn’t bring you joy, it doesn’t answer all your problems. I have money. It’s okay, but it still brings a lot of worries.

But I think the funnest part of the job is doing weddings. Everybody’s happy, everybody’s joyous. And granted, out of the 300 weddings I’ve done, you do that big of numbers and not everybody’s going to be happy; there’s a couple of oddballs in there. It’s usually not the bride and groom, it’s usually the mother of the bride or the father of the bride. Pretty upset that they’re child is not getting married in a church.

But I hone in on those people and I treat them like – no matter if it’s a pissed off Marine that his daughter’s not getting married in a church, or a little old grandma. I go and give the grandma treatment, I make them feel welcome, I try to avoid the topic, but I try to at least make them feel like they’re in a comfortable place.

You do the weddings at the shop?
Yeah, we do them up at the shop. There is the agitation when I have to tell a customer to wait. One of my jokes with that is I’ll pick a customer and say, “We’re going to perform a wedding, it’s going to stop the line for three or five minutes, would you be willing to be the person who waits for the wedding?” I usually pick out the grumpiest person and they usually say, “No.” And then I go to the person behind them – and it always works – I go to the person behind them and go, “We’re going to perform a wedding, it’s going to take three to five minutes, would you be the person willing to wait?” “Yes.” “I’ll give you $20 worth of donuts.” Then that person in front is all [grumbling noises].

The one we just did, they had their tuxedo T-shirts on having a great time. I’ve had parties of 20 show up with bride, groom, full wedding parties, all dressed up in tuxedos and wedding dresses. It’s always kind of a fun experience to walk into because I don’t know what I’m walking into. I usually have to plan somewhat. One of my little tricks that seem to work a lot is I try to dress for the event. I have no clue who’s showing up, I don’t know if it’s going to be full dress or people in shorts and ratty T-shirts. Usually I nail it, the bride and groom will be wearing black and I’ll have a black suit on or something like that. That’s fun. But just the happiness and the joy – that’s nice.

The success is good too, I’m not going to dog that at all. The feeling of, “I did something that countless people told me would never work, couldn’t happen, not a good idea.” The people I give the most the most crap to about it are the people who really just hammered down, even six months in, “It’s a fluke!

Hey, it’s 11 years later and we’re still growing. So a little smugness in that, but you have to put it out there to get the grave; that’s one of the lines I say. You gotta at least put it out there. If you don’t try then how will you know? You have to fall down, I fell down plenty of times before the shop opened, this is the first legitimate business idea I’ve ever tried to push and got lucky and hit a home run.

 

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VoodooDoughnut.com

Voodoo Doughtnut on Twitter

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This article written by Luis Ruano for The Hundreds

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