Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fathers, Sons and Dunkin' Donuts

Coupons from my father's DDU training manual 
In 1974, my dad spent six weeks at Dunkin’ Donuts University (DDU) in Braintree, MA. While he learned about frying fritters and operating a franchise, my mom and we four boys went about our business in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Mom told a lumber yard employee that her husband, Jim, had died and asked the stranger if he could help her Cub Scouts with a Pinewood Derby project.)

I was a fifth-grader at Longfellow Elementary, yet I don’t recall learning anything about Henry Wadsworth or reciting “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

After my dad returned from Boston and then moved us to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma—where he opened a Dunkin’ Donuts on Route 66—my ex-classmates wrote to me. I still have the missives written on paper reserved for grade-schoolers learning to improve their penmanship, if not their spelling and punctuation. Greg, for example, wrote, “You are lucky because your dad works in a dunkin donuts (sic) shop, when ever (sic) you want a donut you got one. Boy, you are going to live in paradise!”

Dad made cutting donuts look easy to a ten-year old. On rare occasions, he would place the chrome ringlet-maker in my right hand. I anticipated chopping the dough into perfect circles, just like my father had learned at DDU. I swung my right arm and wrist downward at the doughy blob and anticipated the impact, that flick of the wrist Dad had executed to free the soon-to-be donut from its mother ship.

Thwap. A doughy glob would get stuck in the donut-cutter. (I had latent talent that wouldn’t manifest itself for another decade or so, but that’s another story). Dad then blended the mutant’s remains into the big batch and repeated the process he had learned in Boston.

I could also watch my father through the gigantic rectangular window separating the customers from the master donut maker. He’d roll dough flat, sprinkle cinnamon on top, reshape the mass into a roll—and then with a whack, whack, whack—he’d chop off chunks that would become coffee rolls.

My dad wore splattered batter instead of blush. Cakeup, not makeup. He shouldered the burden: the long, long hours required to feed customers and to earn a living for a growing family.

Less than two years later, we moved back to Colorado—to Fort Collins, where my dad would own an automotive business for more than three dozen years and I would learn that I preferred donut grease to muffler grime.

In 2013, less than a year before Oklahoma City’s Dunkin’ Donut franchisee Misha Goli would announce the expansion of the brand there, he and I chatted about our dads and donuts. His father, Massoud, had also attended DDU and baked... and baked. Misha, a ten-year old in 1992, wanted no part of that. He was all about customer service.

He said, “I used to get the milk crates—I couldn’t reach the cash register because I was too short. So I would always get the milk crate and put that under the cash register, jump up and grab the register with one arm and use the other hand to try to push the buttons and ring the customers up as they were coming in.”

He also remembers that giant rectangular window through which customers could watch bakers in action. “The windows aren’t there anymore,” Misha said. He was quick to add that the family and community spirit is still alive, however.

His father has retired and still lives in Oklahoma. My dad passed away last October, in Fort Collins—a week before Dunkin’ Donuts opened a store there and while I was home here in Boston.

My wife and I flew back to Colorado, and in my dad’s basement she found his Dunkin’ Donuts training manual with that old school logo, letters rounded into a fuchsia-colored coffee cup.

Talk about your full circle.
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