You show me one person who doesn’t like a piping hot ring of yeast, dripping with a fine white glaze of sweet sugar and we will both know the face of Satan.
When I was a kid, my mom worked at a Dunkin Donut’s. She worked the graveyard shift, which was 10pm to 6am. What an amazing job that was…. well, amazing for a 5 year old anyway. Many nights I went to work with my mom. Don’t you judge her…. back then it wasn’t odd, abusive or against the law; unlike today. Hell, nowadays you can’t even raise your voice at an unruly kid without some nosy ass person trying to get ya thrown in the pokey. That’s whats wrong with the world today– but I’ll save that for the next blog, as I have been inspired st this very moment to write about the donut shop.
I grew up in the donut shop- literally. It was my home away from home and I’ll never forget the smell. I could draw from memory every detail of that shop right now, 36 years later, same as I could my great-grandmothers little old house. (The “Little House,” that too is another blog) In the back of the donut shop there was a small storage area filled with 5 gallon buckets of oil, raspberry jelly, chocolate & cream filling, chopped nuts and sprinkles. Boxes of colored donut paper, deli paper, gloves. Sacks of sugars, yeast and flour….. and this my friend is where I slept. I know that sounds corny but its true. I had a Pink Panther sleeping bag that I took to the shop and spread out atop the stacked bags of flour and that was my bed many a’night.
There were two bakers that I remember; Jim and Gary. I recall Jim looking like Cheech Marin and Gary looked like Barry Gibb- feathered hair and all. I’m pretty sure Gary was my first crush; with his 70’s hairstyle, a hemostat clamp looking earring with a feather on its end, and white bakers uniform- what was not to love?? hahahahahaha Those two fellas spoiled me and I loved to hang out with them. I would stand on my 5 gallon bucket of jelly and watch contently as they would add the heavy bags of dry goods and eggs into the 40qt mixer. I’m sure there were more ingredients but I can’t recall them anymore. After the stuff was measured out and poured into the huge mixing-bowl, the metal hooks would spin until the ingredients were blended into a soft dough. The mixer bowl was covered with a white cloth and the dough was left to rise. Later one of the guys would roll the mixing-bowl to the table. I was always amazed at how magical the sticky mess transformed into a puffy white overgrown marshmallow that no doubt had a mind of its own. The baker for the night would reach into a sack of flour, scoop up a handful and throw it across the table as though he was feeding chickens. He would repeat this about three or four times to ensure the surface was covered. Picking the large metal mixing-bowl up had to be hard but the baker seemed to do it with ease… he’d heave that bowl up from the floor and toss it up to the floured stainless table. The impact of the heavy bowl made large dents at the end of the table. You see, back in the 70’s there was no way to avoid this kind of damage to property, your toe if you missed or to the muscles of your back. There was no ‘ergonomically correct’ way to do your job, you just did it, whatever it took- blood, sweat and rips to the lower lumbar, and IF you happened to hurt yourself on the job, you didn’t cry and file for free money. Seriously, you ate Doan’s back pills like Tic-Tac’s and pushed through it because if you didn’t there wouldn’t be a job for you to come back to; No wuss laws back then my friend. Anyway, reaching into the bowl the baker would cut off a slab of dough, drag it like a dead body out of its resting place and throw it into the middle of the table. “POOF!” Flour would cloud up like the photo you see of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima. (I know that’s pretty tacky to say, but my daughter is half Japanese so I have rights that other white people don’t lol) Before the flour cloud could settle, the guys would have their slab of dough massaged into a neat ball, flatted, and kneaded back into a ball over and over again until it was ready to be rolled and cut. The baker would knead and roll out a slab for me every single time I was around. He’d showed me how to take the 3″ cutter, push it into the dough and with a tiny turn of my little hand, I’d cut a perfect ring with a hole in its middle. The middles were tossed to the side, later to used for “Munchkins.” Munchkins were what we called the donut holes back in the day… they were my favorite and that’s how I got the nickname..”Munchkin.” That name carried all the way into Middle school where it was put onto the back of my Letterman jacket. Sometimes my momma still calls me, Munchie.
After the dough rings were cut, they were placed neatly onto big plastic trays that the baker had previously covered with waxed paper. Once the tray was full, it was slid onto one of the shelves of the Proofer and left there until the yeast swelled the rings to life. They were carried tray at a time to the fryer. The baker would toss the rings into the hot oil. I wasn’t allowed near the fryer but I could see everything clearly from the jelly bucket I stood on over by the table. As soon as the last ring was placed into the fryer the baker would use long metal chopstick looking things and flip the rings; they went from white rings to biscuit brown donuts in seconds. As quickly as the rings were placed in the fryer, the baker had them flipped and scooped up on those metal sticks and slid onto a drying rack. By hand my momma would take the naked donuts from the rack and dip their tops into chocolate or glaze and place them neatly onto the case trays covered in colored paper. The color of the paper let customers know when the donuts were made. For example, yellow might have meant morning, pink afternoon, white night. This paper also allowed the baker to know when to pull the stales. My momma wouldn’t let stales be thrown away, instead she’d bag them up and give them to the hobo’s that would come by at night. Speaking of hand-dipping, every night that I was there, I was allowed to make the, “Today’s Special.” My donuts were always a huge hit- I think that’s because all the fella’s at the counter knew that I had made them and they loved my momma, so they bought them up just to make us both happy. I’m sure my donuts were a hot mess with their pink frosting and too many waxy sprinkles.
My poor momma- she worked hard in that shop. She was good at her job. She was allergic to the powdered sugar and cinnamon but that didn’t stop her from tossing donuts around in the dusting bins. (remember, push through) I tell you one thing, there’s no one out there as good as my momma was. That woman could work the back, the front and the counter, all while pouring hot coffee and without missing a beat. When things would get quiet the “regulars” would come trickling in just to talk to her. By regulars I mean THE COOLEST PEOPLE EVER!! All night long the counter would fill with detectives, policemen, firefighters, medics and journalist. My momma would hear every piece of news before it was broadcast; wrecks, fires, car chases, bar fights, burglaries, robberies… you name it!!! This is probably why I loved that donut shop much- my twisted little mind had a flare for horror stories. hahaha. The counter at the donut shop really had an impact on my life. I fell in love with all of those first responders and that’s why I became one of them. (another blog to come)
Being that I grew up in that donut shop I always had a sense of entitlement. It was my donut shop. MINE!!!!! I had plans dammit. I was going to buy it when I grew up and I was going to be the baker and my momma was gonna keep my customers happy and my kids were gonna sleep on flour sacks. So you can imagine how I felt when I drove past it many years later. I can still hear the pieces of my shattered heart hitting my stomach when I saw that some Indian folks bought it and turned it into a Blimpie’s. What is it with Indians and sub shops? Whatsamatter with donuts? Why would they fix what wasn’t broken? I ranted about it for years before eventually accepting that my once pristine donut shop was now Blimpie green and instead of the sweet smell of sugar and yeast, it smelled like onions and bell peppers. I rested when I realized that I could turn it back into a donut shop. The hope wasn’t lost…until a few weeks ago. As I drove by expecting to see posters of freshly made subs (that never actually look like the poster when you order them) hanging in the windows, I saw that someone else had purchased my Blimpie donut shop… and let me tell you, they weren’t afraid to turn the paint up a notch either. My Blimipe donut shop was lost to a now BRIGHT neon lime green building with a black tinted front door. ..the windows were gone too. My Blimpie donut shop was now the home of auto accessories. Damn. Now my hope is gone. I could work with the smell of onion but there’s nothing I can do about the smell of rubber, grease and….. redneck.