I'll admit it. I was one of those breathless hype monsters who posted with glee about the impending opening of Dunkin' Donuts in California. I grew up in New Jersey; Dunkin' coffee flowed through my veins so early and so often it probably stunted my growth. To this day, the thought of a Dunkin' Donuts French cruller makes me salivate.
I tracked their every move. I even allowed their PR company to rip off my post about how to order coffee. I literally couldn't wait–and then a friend of mine sent me updates about the line at the first location in Santa Monica that included the words "hundreds" and "hours" and "blocks". I couldn't drag myself all the way to the People's Republic of Santa Monica to fight for parking and wait hours and hours for a doughnut and coffee.
But then, another location opened, this time in Downey, and without the hellacious queues of transplanted New Englanders. I made a beeline, only to be brought up short by the decor. I've never seen such a fresa Dunkin' Donuts in my entire life. Stone and wood and squashy chairs and recessed lighting? At a Dunkin' Donuts?
Nevertheless, I wasn't there to critique the Pier 1 Imports theme, so I approached the counter. "A large coffee regular, a French cruller, and a chocolate glazed," I said brightly, my New Jersey accent returning just in time.
She stared at me. "Regular? Like, black?"
"No, regular. Three creams, three sugars."
"Well, we have a station, but I can do it for you."
I got my coffee–which was woefully undersweetened–and sat down. The doughnuts were soggy; the French cruller was so underdone it had barely set and was still wet (not moist) in the center. The chocolate glazed was missing the best part, the slightly overdone and crunchy ring that runs around the equator of the doughnut. It, too, was soft and squooshy.
I know: whine, bitch, moan, complain. It's a chain, and not a chain that people associate with quality. But let's face it: the only thing Dunkin' Donuts has going for it is nostalgia from expat Easterners like me. That's why there are people lining up in Santa Monica, when the far superior La Monarca, with shade-grown Oaxacan coffee and the best conchas in town, is just a block further east on Wilshire.
I guess, occasionally, when the mood strikes, maybe I'd stop in. But unless it improves, unless the Orange County franchisee gets his collective ducks in a row and improves upon the Los Angeles experience, I don't foresee Dunkies being a regular stop. I don't see it succeeding where Winchells failed; I don't see it forcing the Cambodian Doughnut Cartel and its thousands of independently owned shops out of business, and I definitely don't see it displacing the dozens and dozens of Mexican- and Guatemalan-owned panaderías in a city that loves sweet things for breakfast, because the doughnuts simply aren't good enough.