First look: At long last, Voodoo Doughnut rises tonight at 6 p.m.
All photos by Lori Midson.
Here is where I confess what many would consider a sin: Up until a few weeks ago, I'd never stepped foot inside Voodoo Doughnut. I have never shoved a cock-and-balls doughnut down my throat. Old-fashioned doughnuts, sure, Glazed doughnuts. Check. Doughnuts glistened with chocolate. Of course. But not a cock-and-ball doughnut, although I'm about ready to get the opportunity, because tonight, at 6 p.m., the first Denver outpost of Voodoo Doughnut, a wonderfully wacky, weird and purposefully nonconformist shrine to the hole, which got its start in Portland, Oregon, opens its perversely playful tutu-pink store on East Colfax, an equally wackadoodle stretch of asphalt.
The Voodoo vision began in 2003, after founders Tres Shannon and Kenneth "Cat Daddy" Pogson, the two of whom met in Portland, concocted the idea of unleashing an exotic doughnut shop after uncountable hours of drunken debauchery. "Cat Daddy and I first met in Portland -- he worked at the same bar as my mom -- and we sniffed each other out for a while, then became hard, fast friends, and then we'd go cattin' around town, hitting up nineteen bars in one night, drinking two beers in each bar and having a lot of drunken conversations about what we wanted to do with our lives," says Shannon, who was born in Portland but spent much of his youth in Denver and Monument.
During their tipsy talks, they realized that while Portland had a lot going for it, downtown Portand was absent of one thing: doughnuts. And while the two definitely have offbeat creativity flowing through their veins (Shannon doubles as Mick Jagger in a Stones cover band and Pogson spent several years as a bar brawl wrestling emcee), they didn't know shit about the dos and don'ts of doughnuts. "We love being in front of the circus, and we knew we had this crazy-cool idea, but we didn't know the first thing about making doughnuts," admits Shannon.
But they knew where to find the guys who did. "We went to 'doughnut camp' in Los Angeles, where we learned how to fry doughnuts from grizzled veteran bakers who taught us everything about time, temperature, humidity, weight and everything else that's important about doughnuts," says Shannon, adding that they make their doughnuts with "dough" -- not "do," a brief but pointed commentary of the proper spelling of "doughnut."
What I love about these guys -- and their shop -- is the honest transparency. "Our doughnuts are bag-to-bowl," declares Shannon. "This isn't a gourmet doughnut shop -- we do just way to much volume to be that kind of place" -- and doughnuts, he proclaims, are "Proletarian food." The yeasted doughnut mix, aka "Voodoo Mojo Mix," comes straight out of a bag stashed with some "other secret stuff," says Shannon, adding that for the most part, they simply add water to the mix. The filings, he notes, come from a commercial distributor. If you want artisan doughnuts, all dolled up with local, organic ingredients, Voodoo is your arch enemy. If, on the other hand, you're one of the millions of cultists who revel in -- and appreciate -- a doughnut for what it is, and the exotic fillers and quirky toppings for which Voodoo is revered, then this is your gateway to doughnut euphoria. "It's all about the doughnut being properly made," stresses Shannon.
The Denver space, which was two years in the making, is nothing short of funky. Ask Shannon to describe it, and he quips: "It looks like Walt Disney puked in here." And, to be sure, there's definitely a psychedelic vibe to Voodoo. The multi-hued floors resemble something out of Blinky's Fun Club, or maybe even Romper Room, while the walls are painted a particularly bright shade of lilac, guinea pig yellow and joyous blue. Pink is prevalent, too: Both the signature doughnut boxes (people actually sell these on eBay!), which pimp black-inked outlines of the Voodoo logo and priests, and the tall, glass-encased doughnut doors exposing shelved Merry-go-rounds of doughnuts, are wedding pink. A five-layered face art installation, all of it handmade, strip by strip, with kaleidoscopic utility tape, murals one wall, while the remaining wall space is devoted to a black velvet portrait of Denver actress Pam Grier, the local equivalent to a "voodoo spirit," which lurks in every store; an old Japanese pinball machine; a wooden pirate ship wheel and other conversation pieces. Four flat-screen TVs, which will double as menus, reside above the counter, behind which is a huge kitchen where the doughnut magic unfolds.
Voodoo fries -- and hustles -- more than 100 different doughnuts, and once the pink palace opens in January, every flavor, says Shannon, will be available all day, every day. And while the majority of them are batshit crazy in their combinations, Shannon points out that "even truck drivers love our doughnuts," the sentiment being that while you can stuff your pink box with doughnuts shaped like a blunt, dipped in maple frosting and dusted with cinnamon sugar, or rather large boners with fat balls (that's the cock-and-balls, in case you were wondering) and triple filled with Bavarian cream and frosted in chocolate, traditional round doughnuts that are simply glazed, frosted or sprinkled are all available, too.
And tonight, when Voodoo hosts its "flaccid" opening -- the erect opening is scheduled for January 15 -- it'll also feature a maple-frosted doughnut swaddling Bavarian cream and christened on top with a large "C," a homage to Colfax. "I love the grittiness of Colfax, and I really love this particular block," says Shannon. "Our neighbors are amazing, and Denver, in particular, is so fired up about us being here. It's awesome."
Hours will be sporadic, warns Shannon. "We're definitely opening tonight, and we'll stay open until we run out of doughnuts, but until January 15, we may be closed a day here, two days there, and that's just the way we do things. We totally have our shit together, but we also have to fry a ton of doughnuts, and there are things we have to deal with, like altitude, so we ask that people be patient," he says. My gut tells me the wait will be worth all the balls you can juggle.
Shannon gave me an early peek at the space, the photos of which you can behold on the following pages.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.