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The Cult of Dunkin’ Donuts

Nothing connects me better to my working-class roots than a giant carafe of cheap coffee and a day-old cruller

In Massachusetts, Dunkin’ Donuts is so ubiquitous that there’s even a Dunkin’ across the street from a Dunkin’ in Boston. Any town with a stoplight in the state has one, and bigger cities like Boston have them practically on every block. Westfield, for example, has 41,000 people and eight Dunkin’ Donuts. L.A., with its four million people, has 13 – and that includes the Valley.

I’m from a rural town of 3,000 about a 20-minute drive from Westfield, with no stop lights, no chain stores, and unbelievably, no Dunkin’s. Still, I’d respectfully make the pilgrimmage to Westfield to properly bow to its alter and abide by the cult of Dunkin’. So does a more prominenet Massachusetts native — Ben Affleck, despite now being tethered to L.A. “It’s very weird, I have [Dunkin’ Donuts] every day, and people are always like, ‘Where is that? Is that near here?’” he recently told Collider. “So, I feel like I’m spreading the word.”

The chain got its start in 1950 in Quincy, Massachusetts, a town just south of Boston. Coffee and donuts were big hits among the factory workers and shipyard laborers there, and by 1963, there were more than 100 locations. Today, there are 12,500 internationally.

“It’s cheap, accessible coffee, most spots are open 24/7 and there are so many around,” says Dave Trott, a construction laborer who lives in Worcester but works in Mission Hill, a neighborhood in Boston. “A lot of the labor force are cheapskates trying to save the bag to spend on new tools, booze or cocaine, so all the extra bucks not being spent on a $6 coffee can go a long way.” (For comparison’s sake, a large Dunkin’ iced coffee runs for about $2.50.)

Comedian Josh Gondelman is often tweeting about his love of Dunkin’, proudly boasting the line “year-round iced coffee drinker” in his bio. He tells me that, like most other Dunkin’ stans, his habit started out of necessity. “I’m from Massachusetts, and so it’s just what’s around.” Today, though, Gondelman lives in Brooklyn. There’s a Dunkin’ near his apartment, but he has to walk by two fancy coffee shops to get to it. Still, he makes the trek every day. He even recently got a pair of Dunkin’ branded running shoes that quickly sold out. “A lot of places only have a small, strong cold brew, and I prefer a giant carafe of low- to medium-strength coffee,” he explains. “It’s a longer drinking/enjoying experience, and I never get those full-body vibrations like you do from high-octane coffees.”

I know the sentiment — a cup of artisan cold brew leaves me needing an Ativan, while I could drink Dunkin’ iced coffee all day. But more than that, I feel a sense of pride drinking the coffee of the Massachusetts everyman. Tell the Dunkin’ barista you want your coffee “regular,” and it’ll come loaded with cream and sugar. It’s not a coffee for people who are thinking about the soil conditions their coffee beans were grown in.

In December 2016, SNL featured a skit starring Casey Affleck (Ben’s bad brother) in a Dunkin’ Donuts parody ad showing the “true” Dunkin’ customer. “You wanna talk real customers? Kid, that’s me, I’m like the mayor of Dunkin’. This is the face of Dunkin’ Donuts right here,” he says in a thick Boston accent, smoking a cigarette in the store with the door cracked open, and dressed in a hooded Carhartt jacket with a Bruins cap. “Yeah, I come to Dunkin’ every day. Grab a cruller, have an extra large, three Parliaments, take a big dump, that’s kind of the routine.” The sketch ends with Affleck yelling “Go back to Starbucks!” at a man with a nice car and sport jacket.

It’s a fair portrait of the class divide between chains — the median household income of Dunkin’ drinkers is about $9,000 less than that of Starbucks, and 14 percent have a college education compared to Starbucks’ 22 percent. Perhaps that’s part of why Dunkin’ pride runs so deep. For me, having moved away from my low-income family in Massachusetts to get a degree and then a white-collar job, Dunkin’ lets me cling on to a regional class identity I’ve had to leave behind.

That, and it’s the only place to get a meal for five bucks.