Interview: Tres Shannon, co-owner of Voodoo Doughnut

photo: Voodoo logo

As the Voodoo legend continues to grow, co-founders Tres Shannon and Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson bring their eccentric dessert creations like the “Grape Ape” and the “Bacon Maple Bar” to Denver.

Last December, Voodoo Doughnut Mile High opened its doors at 1520 E. Colfax Avenue to all sweet-toothed, fried dough lovers throughout the Mile High City.

If you’ve visited the location or even passed by, odds are the customer line was well out the door. As Shannon puts it, in the month since opening the Voodoo Mile High workers, “haven’t been able to catch their breath.”

In addition to expanding their operations to Denver, Shannon and Pogson are launching a doughnut-themed record label.

Voodoo Doughnut Recordings is a label unlike any other: each month, the company will release one 45 vinyl single, shaped and colored like a doughnut and featuring at least one doughnut-themed song.

We spoke with Shannon about his Colorado connections, the record label, and what the future holds in store for Voodoo in Denver.

OpenAir: When I visited Portland, the downtown Portland Voodoo location was one of the "non-negotiable" places I was told to visit. I think it’s safe to say in its 10-plus years of existence, Voodoo Doughnut has become a renowned cultural institution in Oregon. So why expand operations out of state now, and why Denver?

Tres Shannon: Well why not? We like Denver! The big fishes like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and we’ve gone on record saying we’re not going there or Seattle. The next major metropolitan city is Denver. I used to live in Denver from 1970 to 1982, and graduated from high school in Monument, CO. It’s still like home for me, and I’m a huge Broncos fan and always have been.

It took us about three years to scout out the Denver location. Every time we made a pilgrimage there we liked it more and more. It reminds us of Portland because there’s a lot of young people. And fit people too. But we don’t mind trying to bring the health index down a bit.

The city was really, really welcoming to us with all the government officials. Mayor Michael Hancock led the ribbon cutting ceremony. Anthony Graves, Paul Washington, and a lot of city officials were excited to have our business come to Colfax. They treated us like Intel was coming to town. That was refreshing.

OA: It has been over a month since you opened. How would you rate the local reception in Denver so far?

TS: It’s crazy! It’s been too busy, if anything. I kept bragging that we know what we’re doing but we still haven’t been able to catch our breath. We’re open 24/5 right now. We’ll probably have to stay closed on Mondays and Tuesdays until at least March to catch up. It takes a while to train people, and we just haven’t had time because you guys have completely overwhelmed us. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

OA: Everytime I've passed by the store, the line has been well out the door. Are those long lines becoming a problem?

The line is part of the deal. We have four registers going and there’s still a lot of education about the products. It’s still a novelty so everybody wants to try every type of doughnut and know what they’re called. You wait in line but when you get there you can take all day long. We’re trying not to hurry people along too much once they make the battle to get there.

But all that’s going to work out. From spending time at the Denver store, I got a real good understanding of what’s going on. We’re used to a real busy store, just not in the middle of January! In Portland we’re really busy in the summer, so I’m interested to see what happens in six months. It’d be great if we could become a tourist location in Denver as well and get people from other parts of the world to experience the grittiness of Colfax Avenue.

OA: Should the Denver location continue to succeed would you consider expanding elsewhere in Colorado?

TS: We’ll see. In Portland we had the one shop. That got nutty, so we opened another shop to relieve some of the stress of the first shop. It worked out where the tourists came to the downtown shop and locals to the second. But it’s not our M.O. to go in to a place and open up a bunch of shops.

OA: Voodoo makes the Portland Cream doughnut to honor its Oregon roots. Are there any plans for a Colorado-themed doughnut?

TS: Well, we made the Colfax Cream for you guys, which is the McMinnville Cream rebranded. It’s a maple frosted, cream-filled doughnut. It took a while to get to the Portland Cream, so that Colorado doughnut still could reveal itself. Maybe we’ll make a green chili doughnut.

Serendipitously we opened up at the same time that marijuana became legal so that’s definitely a question that’s come across. I could imagine if we were to make a special doughnut down the line it would probably involve marijuana because we wouldn’t be able to do that at any of our other locations. You couldn’t sell them at the store, of course. But I could see in the future that this could be a special doughnut you could get at a licensed location.

OA: That’s certainly an intriguing idea.

TS: Doughnuts and marijuana are pretty good together!

OA: You’re launching a music label soon. Music and doughnuts might not be the most obvious connection for some to make. How do you see the relationship?

TS: When we opened, the shop music was very important to us. We discussed how great it would be to have songs about doughnuts on a record label, and finally we got around to doing it.

Big hole 45s look like doughnuts. So why not have artists write songs about doughnuts or Voodoo? Release one a month, and suddenly you have a dozen singles all about doughnuts and that’s like a box of doughnuts. Maybe you’ll get a thirteenth one with the box! There wasn’t a whole lot of crazy thought put into it. We’re doughnut guys, not record label guys.

In Portland there’s a whole bunch of record labels and good record stores, and we do have the records available at Wax Trax in Denver. The January and February editions are available. The third and fourth ones coming up will feature Poison Idea, a classic Portland punk band, and Audios Amigos, an instrumental band. Our naked janitor, who used to clean our downtown Portland shop in the nude, does the vocals on one of the records.

I’m glad it got off the ground. We don’t really pay for advertising at all. So it’s an extension of advertising the brand in a way we all enjoy, with music and vinyl.

OA: As far as the existing catalog of doughnut music goes, there really isn’t a whole lot. My research turned up a Tori Amos song but that’s about it.

TS: And now we’ve already released two more! I love the idea that come 2015, we’ll have twelve unusual songs we can think of as doughnuts. We’re talking about spoken word, comedy, noise, and rap records. We’re still getting tons of submissions. After those twelve or thirteen maybe we’ll start putting out full-length records or focus on one artist.

Really it’s just a fun thing to do. There really isn’t a lot of homework involved.

OA: Where do you press and master the records?

TS: Weirdly enough, to get really good, colored, hand-numbered vinyl it’s in the Czech Republic. Even with the shipping from Europe, it’s still cheaper than in the United States.

The guy who is doing all the mastering is Don Fury, based in upstate New York. We’re not recording anything. People are sending us ready-made stuff and Don masters it. He’s done stuff with Bad Brains, Agnostic Front, and Minor Threat. He’s this cool early punk rock veteran and I’ve been really impressed with the way things have sounded on the first two records.

So far we’re selling them really well in Portland and our managers had to get more. There’s two of each 45 for January and February at Wax Trax and they’re available at the stores too. It is kind of a special niche for record geeks and Voodoo geeks to buy.