Call it the Dunkin’ Donuts march across Minnesota.
Dunkin’ Donuts invaded the state earlier this year and the north country is one of the first battle grounds. The Massachusetts-based company opened a new shop in Duluth last June and said it will develop 24 new Twin Cities locations over the next few years.
Now I’m no fan of corporate coffee shops. If “America runs on Dunkin’,” as their slogan says, then I’m running the other way. But I love donuts. In Maine, we had few choices. It was either Dunkin’ or Tim Horton’s, a Canadian chain named after former Maple Leaf defenseman. Both places turned out donuts that tasted like hockey pucks.
Which is why I’m worried. A donut war launched by a multi-million dollar corporation could wipe out longtime neighborhood places. And those longtime neighborhood places are where you find all the good stuff.
Johnson’s Lakeside Bakery is a mom & pop shop just down the street from our house. If Dunkin Donuts is successful in flooding the state with sugar, Johnson’s could drown in the process.
Yesterday, I visited both Johnson’s and Dunkin’ to sample their sweets.
Johnson’s Lakeside Bakery keeps its donuts, rolls and cookies under glass like jewels. A collection of cookie jars hug the ceiling and historic photos hang on the wall. A woman who looks like she knows her way around cook books fills a bag with goodies and hands me change. Two donuts and a white frosted cinnamon roll for $2.35.
I ask about the donuts at Dunkin’.
“I don’t like them,” she says. “And we tried their coffee. It just wasn’t very good.”
I agree and say I’m glad Johnson’s makes its home in Lakeside.
Then I drive 20 minutes up the hill to a scruffy Duluth retail hub called the Central Entrance. Dunkin’ Donuts is across the street from an O’Reilly Auto Parts store and shares a driveway with a self-serve car wash. An SUV sits at the drive-thru window.
Inside the boxy building, a young woman stands at the counter and says the double chocolate donuts are fresh out of the oven. They are kept in wire baskets and lined up in perfect rows. I pick an old-fashioned and a pumpkin glazed, pay $1.98 and feel dirty as I walk out the shiny new building.
Back home, I do a taste test. The Johnson donut tastes rich and substantial, not too sweet, not too clean. I want more. It takes everything I have to save the white frosted cinnamon roll for breakfast.
The two Dunkin’ nuts taste fine but they’re lighter, sweeter and somehow taste the same. Isn’t one of them supposed to be pumpkin flavored? I know donuts aren’t supposed to fill you up, but Dunkin’ Donuts make you feel the opposite, like your tank is empty.
Maybe the march across Minnesota will hit empty too.
Before it gets to Minneapolis.