Friday, April 24, 2015

Bad Chain Restaurants III - Heartbroken

At the ripe old age of 15, I wanted a job. I needed more than the few dollars a week my parents gave me as an allowance. I wanted spending money. Ambition welled up in me, I needed to do something. My mother had previously worked at Dunkin' Donuts and she was friends with the owner. She got me a job there.

It was June 1982, I'll never forget it. I got hired as a porter. A porter was a part time job, about 3 hours a day, in the afternoon. Porters did odd jobs around the shop. We cleaned the kitchen. We mopped floors. We helped bring in stock when the truck would arrive. We filtered the fryers. I didn't love it, but I loved having a paycheck, and I loved being around all of the cute girls who worked the counter.

I did that for a about a year and a then baker job opened up. I wanted it. Badly. It paid twice what I was making as a porter. If I got the job I'd instantly double my salary. Plus it would eventually lead to full time. Somehow, and I don't remember the details, but somehow I got the job. What's even more surprising is I was only 16. Because of the dangers of working with the hot fryers, you needed to be 18. Legally, I wasn't old enough. But my boss gave me the job anyway.

I hated that job at first. It was a lot of work. My boss started me on Friday nights. The biggest night of the week! Saturday's were crazy and the shop sold a ton of donuts. An experienced baker could get the job done in 7 hours. It took me 12. Worse, I was terrible. My donuts weren't good. I hated that I sucked at my job. But I stuck with it, and slowly but surely, I got better. I continued on and off as a baker until 1999. When I finally left in 99, I was a phenomenally good baker. No one made better donuts than me. I took a ton of pride in my work.

Fast forward to today.

The Dunkin' Donuts that I spent a good part of my early life working in, is not the Dunkin' Donuts of today. Back then there was no Starbucks. If you wanted a coffee (on the east coast anyway) you went to Dunkin'. People loved the donuts. The donuts while not made from scratch, were far more wholesome than they are today. They were great. People lined up out the door to buy them.

The modern Dunkin' Donuts is a shell of it's former self. They sell all kinds of mass produced, highly processed junk. Donuts are a much smaller part of their business. Today Dunkin' sells a wide variety of sandwiches, muffins, croissants, and bagels among an expanded coffee menu that includes things like "coolattas" and espresso based drinks.

In the early 80's when I was working at the Dunkin' in Rotterdam, it was a lot like Cheers. We had a ton of 'regulars' who would come in day after day to sit at the counter to have a coffee and donut before work (there were no tables, just a counter with stools). They got to know the girls, the girls got to know them, and the regulars got to know each other. There was no drive-thru. You actually got out of the car. DD felt like a local coffee shop. Hell, it was the local coffee shop. You don't get any of that at Starbucks today where most people sit and stare at their computers.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the thick, heavy porcelain mugs. They were awesome. They'd keep your coffee warm while you enjoyed your donut, or chatted with someone. Don't underestimate how much a seemingly small detail like that mattered. There was something special about those mugs.

DD only sold coffee. No mocha frappuccino caramel skinny latte whatever those things are. Just good. Plain. Coffee.

Then there was the "dunkin' donut". The company's namesake product. A plain cake donut with a handle that you held onto to dunk it in your coffee. I don't know if they still make them, but they were huge sellers. Every other person at the counter ordered a dunkin' with their coffee.

Dunkin' Donuts has lost all of it's character. Everything that made it special is gone. It's a shame, and that breaks my heart.


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