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Voodoo Doughnut Puts its Magic in the Hole on Colfax

Voodoo Doughnut picked Denver over Austin, San Francisco, New York and Las Vegas for its first location outside of Oregon.

Voodoo Doughnut plans to be open around the clock.

Kenneth "Cat Daddy" Pogson and Tres Shannon, Co-Founders of Voodoo Doughnut.

These Voodoo fans waited for their dozens of doughnuts for about an hour on a Sunday morning.

Fruit Loops adorn one type of Voodoo Doughnuts.

While some might be frustrated with the lines, the reception from Colorado has been warm.

Voodoo Doughnut picked Denver over Austin, San Francisco, New York and Las Vegas for its first location outside of Oregon. Co-Founder Tres Shannon and GM Laura Wolken share why the city is perfect for the one-of-a-kind doughnut business.
Things just got a little weirder in Denver, and this isn't a story about newly legalized pot -- well, not entirely. It's about one of the two things that are commanding long lines, potentially challenging people's waistlines and perhaps adding to Coloradans' general happiness. 
It's a story about doughnuts and how one of the nation's most famous doughnut makers came to launch its first out-of-Oregon shop right here in Denver. With a hot pink storefront, chandeliers, train horns adorning its two rotating racks of unique doughnuts and colors reminiscent of a funhouse, this isn't your run-of-the-mill Dunkin' Donuts, another newbie to the Colorado doughnut market. 
No, 1520 E. Colfax Ave. is home to the craft champions of doughnut making, Voodoo Doughnut.

The Oregon-based company rose to fame on its unique offerings like the Voodoo Doll, a chocolate-frosted doughnut bar with arms, decorated like a zombie and staked through its delicious little raspberry-jelly heart with a pretzel stick. But it really took off with the Bacon Maple Bar, as scrumptious as drenching bacon through maple syrup on a stack of flapjacks. 
"We always knew we wanted something sweet and savory, and the Bacon Maple Bar hit that mark and we haven't really looked back," explains Tres Shannon, who founded Voodoo Doughnut with his buddy Kenneth "Cat Daddy" Pogson. "That's been a crazy special doughnut."
The company, which opened its first shop in Portland in 2003, now has four locations (two in Portland and one in Eugene, Oregon, plus Denver) and has been featured on TV shows including Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre Foods America where he ate doughnuts with mealworms and other, shall we say, delicacies.
Site selection, Voodoo Doughnut-styleVoodoo Doughnut picked Denver over Austin, San Francisco, New York and Las Vegas for its first location outside of Oregon.

Voodoo Doughnut chose Denver as its first location outside of Oregon after a long process of elimination. 
"When we were talking about expanding, we were thinking about Austin, we were thinking about maybe Vegas," Shannon says. They also considered San Francisco and New York City, but they were "a little too rich for our blood right now," he says. 
"Lobster [a.k.a. Robin Ludwig], our CEO, coaches the women's roller derby team in Portland and plays in the men's roller derby and he had some bouts out there [in Denver]. He came back saying, 'I think Denver's pretty great,'" says Shannon, who went to grade and high school in Colorado. "There's kind of a young clientele there, kind of like Portland

"Denver just seems to have an opening for entrepreneurial spirits," says Laura Wolken, the new store's general manager. "A lot of people moved with the company knowing that they will meet people here and stay with the company a few years here and move on and build their own life."

She began working with Voodoo Doughnut about five years ago and was managing Voodoo Too (their second Portland location) before taking on the task of opening the Denver location. "In me, they had someone who was willing to move for the company and they knew that I'm a really hard worker, that I'm reliable and won't move here and quit," Wolken says. "Because I'm so close with my staff, I managed to convince four others to move out with me. There's six of us from Portland and we're all training."

Wolken went to Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, and wanted to move back to Colorado. "I just really missed it and the people here are really nice," she says. "They're down to earth and I love the weather. It's gorgeous."

Voodoo Doughnut's road to Colorado took some time. "It took us three years to get the shop open," says Shannon, explaining that they scouted locations across Denver before settling on Colfax Avenue. "We're excited about being on Colfax. It's the longest business avenue in the nation. I think we would have liked to be on Broadway six years ago or something. It seems like Broadway was kind of grittier then, but it seems like we were a little behind the curve on that.

"I think Colfax fits our groove a bit more. We're kind of in the crotch of Portland. We're next to a porno theater, a titty bar and Section 8 housing and there's all these social services all around us. So we're right in the middle of grit and the whole thing. But people wait outside in line and love it. It's part of the whole deal and I'm hoping the same could be said for Colfax."
Adds Shannon: "We're not there to make Colfax better, we're just there to add to Colfax's flavor. It's been there a lot longer than us."

Rock and roll -- and doughnutsVoodoo Doughnut plans to be open around the clock.
The location is also close to three of Denver's iconic music venues: the Ogden Theater, the Bluebird Theater and the Fillmore  Auditorium, as well as countless bars, ideal for a shop that plans to be open around the clock. The company will likely form ties with some of the venues. "You get doughnuts backstage in places and it's a good way to get the word out," shares Shannon of the tricks of the trade. 

Rock stars love the tasty confections. "Fleetwood Mac, the first thing they did is they demanded Voodoo Doughnuts" when they arrived in Portland, Shannon says. "Adele is a big fan. Major pop stars of the world are fans evidently and that's because we get them backstage." Shannon and Pogson also worked in the Portland music scene prior to opening Voodoo Doughnuts.
The company will also make custom doughnuts for its fans. "If Van Halen needs green M&M doughnuts, we'd take care of them," Shannon jokes. "We're kind of a rock-and-roll doughnut shop so it's great to have these rock-and-roll venues around, and we don't spend a lot of money on advertising -- really none." 
Even here in Denver, the store is commanding throngs of patrons that rival those at Colorado's newly opened pot stores without advertising. "You all are coming out the woodwork," he quips.
Indeed, it takes about 30 minutes to make it from the door to the front of the line. "We have four registers and each of these registers are ringing up thousands of dollars of doughnuts every day," Wolken asserts. 
At this point though, the company hasn't been able to keep up with demand and closes down twice a day. Wolken says that, though they've already hired about 25 people, to really train them on all the hand decorating takes time, and to meet Shannon's ambitious goal to be open 24/7, they'll need to hire and train about 25 more people. 
Not bad for a store hasn't even had its grand opening yet. That's set for Jan. 15 and will be attended by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, former Denver Nugget Bill Hanzlik and will feature music at Blush Bar & Coffee Lounge, next door to the doughnut shop. 
Craft doughnuts, local hijinks
Like a craft brewer, Voodoo Doughnut uses a lot of local ingredients in doughnuts in Oregon and has partnered with local businesses there. For instance, Oregon-based Rogue Ales has made a number of Voodoo Doughnut-inspired brews and only on Thursdays in Oregon can you get Voodoo Doughnuts with locally made Kelly's Jelly. 
"A lot of this is Portland-centric stuff, but we want to make Denver-centric stuff," Shannon says. "We want Denver to make the shop their own." 
That's already starting to happen. Instead of your run-of-the-mill soda machine, the store has a Rocky Mountain Soda Co. fountain, and the staff is already looking at other ways to bring in local ingredients. "I actually ran into a woman who makes pie here and she might do pie filings [for us]," Wolken shares.
They're also looking to make Denver-centric doughnuts and get involved with sports themes. Wolken says they're considering making a nugget doughnut to celebrate the Nuggets, just like they did with the Maple Blazer Blunt (a cinnamon-sugar coated raised yeast doughnut rolled into a blunt form with one end dipped in maple frosting and red sprinkles, which was named after the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers). The nugget could be a buttermilk bar rubbed in coconut and dyed green. (This writer suggested a green chile doughnut.)

Shannon also says Voodoo Doughnut will likely carry on with their "hex the next" tomfoolery. "Leading up [to a game], we'll make a Chargers-uniformed voodoo doll and people can stick sticks in it and can 'hex the next' in line. We'll be doing something like that for the Broncos."
While some might be frustrated with the lines, the reception from Colorado has been warm, according to both Wolken and Shannon. "I really want to commend Denver folks on that everybody seems pretty chill," quips Shannon. "It's all that marijuana they're smoking."

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Chris Meehan.

Chris is a Denver-based freelance writer, editor and communications specialist. He covers sustainability, social issues and other topics.
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