Locals struggle to define our town, pointing to TV shows, bike paths, and construction cranes. But to understand the city as it grows and changes, just look to our sweetest cultural export. Here’s how three wildly popular—but radically different—doughnut shops exemplify clashing and contrasting aspects of Portland’s essential soul.
The Portlandia Ambassador
Rallying cry: Keep Portland Weird(er)
Territories: 6.5—two shops (and a cart) in PDX, plus Eugene, Denver, Austin, and Taipei City, Taiwan
Mode: Thirteen years in, the cruddy pink Old Town shop that performs weddings and infamously once glazed its product with NyQuil defines the Portland Weird brand for outsiders. Owners Tres Shannon and Cat Daddy’s doughnuts aren’t always the best ... but that’s beside the point. “We wanted to open a place that was, ‘Oh, that’s so Portland,’ where anything can happen while you’re waiting in line,” remembers Cat Daddy.
Flagship doughnut: Tourists pose with stale bacon maple bars, but the Oreo, peanut butter, and chocolate–topped Old Dirty Bastard is a legit treat.
Ideal eater: Out-of-towners, kids at heart, friends who say they “liked the first album the best”
Future: Cat Daddy hopes to spawn more Voodoos in other “kooky” cities like Minneapolis and Nashville: “We want to plant a seed and watch Voodoo become part of the community.”
The Community Organizer
Rallying cry: #communitynotcompetition
Territories: 1.5—Northeast Portland shop and mobile truck
Ethos: Small is beautiful at this earnest doughnut experience—walls hand-painted to mimic high desert skies, impromptu guitar performances from employees. Owners Jamie and Nate Snell actually built generosity into their business plan: Pip’s partners with nonprofits and other businesses, and gives employees an extra $30 per paycheck earmarked for charitable giving. “I’ve based a lot of our self-worth on giving to people,” Nate Snell says.
Flagship doughnut: Addictive honey-drizzled, sea salt–sprinkled mini, fried to order
Ideal eaters: Families of good taste, ’90s indie purists, Instagram addicts
Future: After three busy years, the Snells still bypass franchise offers in favor of birthing more Pip’s trucks and bottling the killer house chai. “We’re not a cookie-cutter business,” Snell says. “I want Pip’s to be an institution.”
The Empire Builder
Rallying cry: Export Portland!
Territories: 7—four PDX locations, one Los Angeles, plus Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan; currently working on a deal to open 17 (!) more shops across Japan
Mode: Like Stumptown and Salt & Straw, Blue Star’s playfully chic vision of PDX is in global demand: scratch doughnuts crafted from local ingredients, exhibited like Euro sports cars in bright, mod shops. “Other cities and countries want part of Portland. And that’s right, we are cool and do cool shit here!” says Blue Star CEO Katie Poppe.
Flagship doughnut: Bon Appétit’s May-issue cover model: Blue Star’s raised brioche round slicked in blueberry-bourbon-basil glaze
Ideal eaters: Junk food cravers, property developers, magazine editors (ahem), Japanese Airbnb-ers
Future: “Frankly, I want Blue Star to be like Nike,” says Poppe. “To have our national headquarters in Portland where people come and train—and keep that infrastructure and money in Oregon.”