It’s a busy life when you’re Denver’s mayor; press conferences, policy debates — doughnut store openings. That’s right, the grand opening of the sometimes-quirky, sometimes-controversial boutique doughnut chain Voodoo Doughnut, which previously only had locations in Oregon, was a big enough deal that Denver Mayor Michael Hancock made an appearance. Unless you’ve heard about Voodoo and their expansive array of pastries, including the “Captain My Captain” doughnut, topped with, you guessed it, Captain Crunch; the “Voodoo Doll doughnut,” complete with pretzel stick pin inserted; and a mishmash of fried dough, Oreo crumbles, chocolate frosting and peanut butter called – pardon my French – the “Old Dirty Bastard,” it’s probably baffling why a doughnut shop garners this much attention.
1520 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80218
Facebook: Search “Voodoo Doughnut Mile High”
Hours: Open 24 hours Wed.-Sun.; closed Mon. and Tues. (Starting March 1, the owners hope to be open 24/7.)
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock cuts the ceremonial ribbon at the grand opening of Voodoo Doughnut on East Colfax Ave. on Jan. 15, surrounded by, from left, Voodoo Doughnut partner Tres Shannon, Denver City Councilwoman Jeanne Robb, Denver Office of Economic Development executive director Paul Washington, and Voodoo partner Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson.
The Denver location — with its pink storefront — sits cheekily next to a dentist office at 1520 East Colfax Ave. between Humboldt and Franklin, about a dozen blocks from the state Capitol. There’s also a dispensary, a tattoo parlor, and a gay bar nearby. Whatever your opinion of Colfax, most would agree that it’s a little rough. But that’s exactly what owners/founders Tres Shannon and Kenneth Pogson, who goes by Cat Daddy, wanted, and Denver’s Office of Economic Development was instrumental in helping them find the location and get the store business-ready for its soft opening in mid-December and grand opening Jan. 15. But from the mood of the 50-some people lined up outside the store at half past 10 a.m. the day of the grand opening, it seemed that most were there for the doughnuts and not the political pageantry.
A military vet’s long vigil outside Voodoo Doughnut, before the grand opening, pays off as he chomps down on one of the renowned pastries. He set up camp outside the much acclaimed doughnut shop at 6 a.m. and scrubbed down the sidewalk while he waited for the store to open.
“If there’s a line then it’s worth waiting for,” said Belai Henderson, a young woman who’d been checking out the store’s activities on Facebook.
Special Colorado-themed doughnuts are on display in anticipation of the arrival of the Mayor and city officials for the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Inside, a crowd of privileged persons waited excitedly for the mayor. No mayor, no ribbon cutting. No ribbon cutting, no doughnuts. A few minutes after 11 a.m., the man of the hour arrived along with Denver city councilwoman Jeanne Robb, in whose district Voodoo sits, and Paul Washington, executive director of the city’s Office of Economic Development.
I’d researched Voodoo Doughnut and knew they’d been featured on Man vs. Food, No Reservations and other T.V. shows; I knew they’d ruffled the FDA’s feathers by selling doughnuts spiked with NyQuil and PeptoBismol (alas, no longer available). But, were they, as Washington said in his remarks, “the best doughnuts in the history of the world?” I couldn’t yet say; and I’d have to wait through a few more speeches to find out.
Shannon and Pogson seemed over-the-moon to be in Denver (both wore bright orange hoodies) and specifically in their location on Colfax.
“It’s kind of hairy, kind of gritty. It kind of fits what we do,” Shannon said.
Both said they like the rough-and-tumble personality of Colfax, which is why they chose the location. (Playboy magazine once called Colfax “the longest, wickedest street in America.”) Shannon used to live in Denver and still retains a deep love for the area and its culture, which he said resembles Portland, Oregon in its young, edgy population and focus on fitness.
“People that like fitness like doughnuts,” he said to laughter.
Pogson agreed that their location on Colfax, which extends a total length of 26.5 miles from the plains to the mountains through the cities of Aurora, Denver and Lakewood and Golden, “fits the Voodoo vibe.” Who knows, their presence there might just be the beginning of a new identity for Colfax as a place where people can get sugar highs, as opposed to other kinds. That possibility wasn’t lost on the officials assembled; everyone had something good to say about Colfax.
“Colfax runs through the heart of the city. It’s our spine,” said the Mayor. “We are really celebrating the spirit of Denver with this opening.”
Voodoo Doughnut returned the favor and celebrated Denver with its grand opening, which featured Colorado flag-inspired doughnuts and a Voodoo Doll doughnut dressed in a jersey of New England quarterback Tom Brady. The mayor and city officials plunged miniature pretzel sticks into the jelly filled pastry in anticipation of the playoff game a few days later. In light of last Sunday’s killer victory by the Broncos, it looks like there may be something to this voodoo stuff.
Pogson said they will eventually create a signature Denver doughnut, but until then, they’re offering the Colfax Cream, a variation on their Portland Cream doughnut.
Even though I’m an ex-pat from the South, I felt a little pride that day. Of all the hundreds of places the owners looked at, Denver came out as the best location to plant one of the country’s most famous doughnut shops. “Special shops in special places,” as Pogson put it.
After the ribbon had been cut, the workers prepared for the crowds. Somehow I managed to be at the front of the line and ordered the Colfax Cream, Bacon Maple Bar and Ol’ Dirty, the recommendations of the cashier. The doughnuts, though not the cheapest, also aren’t crazy expensive. I got those three for just over $7.
With my pink box in tow, I left Voodoo and went on with the rest of my day. But wherever I went, the box seemed to act as a secret handshake to people, linking us together for the sole fact that we’d experienced Voodoo Doughnuts. A drifter on a bike: “You got the good doughnuts!” A gaggle of college students: “Oh my god, did you have to wait in line?” A well-dressed businesswoman: “Wow, how was the line?”
Even friends of mine from as far as North Carolina, knew about Voodoo and knew it was special. So were they that good? Hell, yes. The bacon-maple was the ideal balance between salt and sweet, the Colfax Cream was simple perfection, the ODB was intensely decadent, and I have no reason not to believe that the rest of the doughnuts are just as out-of-this world. I’d eat them every other day even if it meant running a marathon each week to equal out all the goodness. So, in the end, I answered my questions. They are every bit as good as people say; but the hype makes them taste that much better.
Maggie Tharp is and always will be passionate about eating good food and writing about it. She lives with her husband and kitten in Westminster and has dined in Denver, Boulder, Longmont, Vail and beyond. Thoughts? Suggestions? Maggie can be reached at Maggie@coloradostatesman.com.