In a state where Dunkin’ Donuts shops are nearly as common as a dropped R, this may be difficult forcoffee drinkers to fathom: Johnny Hooper happily waited more than 31 hours to get an iced French vanilla coffee and some Munchkins.
Hooper’s marathon coffee break didn’t take place in Massachusetts, but in Santa Monica, Calif., where Dunkin’ Brands Group on Tuesday opened the second of hundreds of restaurants it plans for California. Another Dunkin’ opened in Modesto, Calif., the previous week.
“I’m originally from Connecticut, so I’m a big Dunkin’ Donuts fan,” said Hooper, who was first in a long line of people forgoing sleep in Santa Monica so they could revive themselves with coffee from the Canton-based company.
Even after the opening-day phenomenon, customers still stood in long lines through the week. Some brought books to help them pass waits as long as two hours Thursday night. The wait to buy coffee and doughnuts at the Santa Monica store Friday was as long as 45 minutes, according to Ace Marrero, a Brentwood filmmaker originally from New Jersey.
“It’s kind of mad in here,” Marrero said by phone from the restaurant. “I might get a Boston Kreme donut. That’s my go-to.”
There are many transplanted New Englanders in the general area of Santa Monica. The seaside city was the longtime hideout for James “Whitey” Bulger. And it is the home to Sonny McLean’s Irish Pub, a Boston-themed bar.
Californians with Northeast roots appeared to made up a significant part of the line waiting for the grand opening of the Dunkin’ store in Santa Monica. Even the local franchise owner, Gary Haar, comes from New Jersey.
Richard Larson, an engineering systems professor at MIT who studies queueing and enjoys Dunkin’ Donuts, said it didn’t take an expert to understand why people would line up. The first people in line, he said, could brag about it to their friends through social media (they did, under the hashtag DunkinLA). And then there’s the shared experience: Patient customers could socialize with other people near them in line.
“I think if an In-N-Out Burger opened in Boston, you’d have lines going around the block in less than a day,” Larson said, referring to the popular hamburger chain with 290 locations across the Southwestern United States.
Expansions of popular food chains into New England support that point. Krispy Kreme created a sensation in 2003 when it opened a store in Medford. Additional Krispy Kreme shops opened in other Massachusetts locations to similar fanfare, but all have since closed.
More recently, customers waited for hours to place orders at the first drive-in Sonic restaurant in Massachusetts, which opened in Peabody five years ago. The Oklahoma City-based chain estimated that 54,000 customers ordered from its menu of milkshakes, burgers, and hot dogs in the Peabody restaurant’s first 10 days of operation.
In California, Dunkin’ Brands is launching a major invasion that will start with five full-service coffee shops planned this year. The company hopes to open nearly 200 stores by 2020 and as many as 1,000 locations eventually.
But Dunkin’ still has a long way to go: Starbucks dominates the coffee business in California with more than 2,500 stores.
Dunkin’ vs. Starbucks in California
Jack Newsham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled doughnuts.