Brian’s Column: Spillin’ with Dunkin’

“America [gets the?] runs on Dunkin’ Donuts”
by Brian Wright (orig. 4/25/11)

Let’s just start out by stating that in my humble opinion (IMHO) Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee stands only slightly above used motor oil on any sober taster’s choice scale. But that doesn’t keep the product out of the hands of millions of, obviously hungover, world customers, daily. What William Rosenberg began in Massachusetts after WW2 as a catering business featuring coffee-break snacks, became the franchise operation Dunkin’ Donuts (DD) in 1950; initially DD also focused mainly on the pastries. Now, according to its corporate info, “over half of Dunkin’ Donuts business today is in coffee, making it more of a competitor to Starbucks…” as opposed to its traditional baked goods competitors.

I want to say right up front that I totally respect and admire Rosenberg and the original business he built with tender loving care. The book, Time to Make the Donuts, seems to tell the enchanting and inspiring story. I’m sure the coffee was much better before he got bought out by conglomo crowd.

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Interesting, because where I do find an attraction to the DD stores is in their provision of cheap breakfast food—the sausage, egg, and cheese Wake-Up Wrap is a protein-calorie bargain at $1.29 (this nanosecond anyway), and the hash-browns, $1, use an deliciously addictive seasoning mix—but neither the doughnuts or coffee.

As for the coffee, I always decline. Sweet little Sara, a cheerful Indian no bigger than a napkin dispenser, down at my local DD, wonders why I don’t take the coffee, even when it’s a free part of a package. I just say I’m not into it, thanks. I don’t have the heart to tell her that the last time I purchased a DD coffee was on the New York Turnpike. It had been sitting a while, but I needed the caffeine hit. Mistake! It wasn’t just awful, it was wretched… bitter, too. But today I’ve decided to bury the painful memories of two years ago—my errands will leave me coffee-free unless I grab one from Sara—and order up. Just a small.

While waiting for the sandwich part of my order, I crack the cover for a sip. Not too bad. Not too good, either. Can coffee be bland? Who knows the blend of beans—corporate doesn’t regard that information as important, probably proprietary anyway—but it’s certainly not a full-flavored arabica, nor is it an excessively bitter robusta. Not a distinct coffee smell nor a distinct coffee taste, in fact, it delivers a faint metallic sensation to my tongue. Perhaps mud is a true ingredient? I suppose nothing to be alarmed over, but this is from a fresh pot. It simply staggers me that anyone would voluntarily drink it… much more every day. McDonalds and Burger King coffees are gourmet by comparison.

[An engram in my memory banks fires, and it seems I’ve had a similar experience before.] After taking a brief taste, which requires opening a flap on the flimsy cover, my sense of touch is aroused: Yikes! This little cup is too hot to hold. What to do. None of those heat sleeves is in clear view, but I do manage to find and grab a Styrofoam® vessel approximately one size larger than the cup. I make a heat sleeve out of it. [Bad solution: the correct choice (as I now too-lately remember from that engram firing) was to order the medium-sized cup with a small-sized pour. The medium cup has a sophisticated drip-free cover designed by NASA and plenty of insulation on its sides.] The figure at right shows my ‘fix.’

The problem with the Brian Fix is when I drink the coffee—yes, I feel it necessary to have more than a sip to perform my taste test—it spills over into the cavity formed between the small-sized cup and the styrofoam sleeve cup. So on the next full swallow, the coffee between the cups flows out into a bona fide spill on the car interior and onto my right leg. Ouch! That wakes me up. Stain in photo below-right; good thing no job interview today. Thus, the decision to give Dunkin’ Donuts coffee another chance is getting my whole day off on the wrong foot. The sacrifices we journalists make in the name of objectivity…

Now my mood has fouled and I consider the whole range of corporate depravity with which one may charge the DD organization. (Though certainly not the employees or even the franchisee.) On the scale of simple customer service, DD needs to improve its small cup design, make it adequately insulated and able to accommodate the NASA-designed cover for the bigger sizes. [Just kidding about NASA.]

Why does DD have such chintzy small cups? Is this 1) a plot to ruin people’s days, 2) discouragement to buying coffee in favor of more-expensive sugary baked goods, 3) a financial inducement to buy larger coffees, or 4) a cost-cutting measure by corporate bean-counters? Probably 4. As borne out by cursory reading of the DD Wiki site and of the origins of DD via William Rosenberg’s Wikipedia page:

From the gitgo, the DD Wiki site has gone so global-corporate there is no mention of the rather quaint history of the New England company. You also don’t get any information on the coffee—whether it has indeed been prepared from industrial waste—or through what third-world populations of happy, local-corporate-state-indentured serfs the product is processed. You do find the sales numbers ($5.5 billion in 2008). And since this is a Wikipedia site, you find a small writeup on ‘criticism’ of the company. It appears the newer conglomo-owners—check it out, the war-machine-dandy Carlyle Group has a principal stake—are sticking it to the franchisees allegedly strong-arming them out of business at large financial losses.

It all fits: Carlyle FCPs][1] are making money from stiffing their franchisees and burning their customers (literally) with as chintzy product/service combo they can get away with. Just kidding, I didn’t get burned. My point isn’t to bust the chops of any particular organization, but to suggest the global corporatization of naturally local and regional businesses ‘does not serve real human beings optimally.’ How’s that for not ranting? Among the left, and the libertarian-left in particular, we see a community-centered movement toward dealing with local independent businesses… to ‘Break the Chains.’ There are many healthful reasons for such a movement(s), which I feel ultimately will declaw the privileged corps and then undo them, to humankind’s benefit.

With respect to DD, I’m glad I did go to the founder Wiki page and read up. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts the old man (Rosenberg) would never have let his coffee turn to military-industrial-complex s**t (silt), nor contain it in such substandard vessels.


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[1] fat corporate p***ies (poofies)

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