Maybe, far in the future, we’ll look back on Wednesday as the day the Donuts died.
Right in the heart of Boston, our beloved Dunkin’ Donuts is testing its shakiest idea since that breakfast sandwich that came on a sodden waffle: changing its name to Dunkin’.
To the disappointment and dismay of many a loyalist, the new sign went up on a soon-to-open store on Tremont Street on Wednesday.
Maybe people would be less upset if they’d ditched the actual doughnuts. That at least would make sense, as the chain’s primary business has for years been coffee. But truncating the name of a New England icon for the sake of some hopeless low-carb rebranding? Dunkin’ Don’t!
A non-native New Englander might wonder what the big deal is. And it’s true that we already shorten everything around here. Southie and Eastie. The Pike and the packie. The Sox and the Pats, the B’s and the C’s. A few readers remain fond of referring to this very publication as the Glob.
So of course Dunkin’ Donuts already has a shortened version of its name — several, in fact. Dunks, yes. If the sign installed at the soon-to-open Tremont Street just said “Dunks”? I’d be over there taking selfies. Dunkies? OK, sure. We will even accept the possessive-but-somehow-apostrophe-free “Dunkins.”
But nobody calls it Dunkin’. And if anybody should know that, it’s Dunks.
Look, I get it, it’s a tough time for Dunks. Fancier and better coffee options are everywhere now. Even if you don’t want to wait 10 minutes while someone carefully distributes 200-degree water over single origin beans in a Hario V60 pourover dripper, you can get something that far surpasses the burned pot at the gas station almost anywhere.
Doughnuts, meanwhile, are uniquely unhealthy — a rare combination of deep-fried carbs covered in sugar — and even those who can be swayed by a cookie after lunch enter the morning with their dietary resolve intact.
It also doesn’t help that the doughnuts at Dunks have been barely above supermarket grade for at least a decade. Years of technological advancement have rendered their signature product mostly terrible, even if it’s in an occasionally lovable way (I’m good for a butternut once every couple of months).
If I had to pinpoint a turning point, I’d say it was when they abandoned crullers — delicious, cakey, braided donut logs — in favor of “sticks.” That was in 2003, and I know at least one overweight 25-year-old who was devastated.
Sticks? Sticks aren’t even a thing. In “Wayne’s World,” Wayne Campbell doesn’t prescribe “coffee and sticks, stat” for severe drunkenness. Besides, this city is filthy with good doughnuts. Why waste the calories on bad ones?
And while I suppose people somewhere must be ordering that other stuff on the menu, I can’t even imagine a hypothetical short of being kidnapped that would lead me to chow down on, say, a chicken bacon sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts. Maybe they’re great! But I’ll never know, just like I’ll never ask about the mortgage rates at Costco: It’s just not what I’m there for.
And chasing trends, fundamentally, is not how Dunkin’ Donuts earned its place of honor in New England’s heart. If anything, it was the opposite. I live in Quincy, not far from the original Dunkin’ Donuts location on Southern Artery. It’s a prototypical Dunks, wedged somewhat awkwardly between an auto repair shop and a Stop & Shop (soon to change its name to “Stop,” perhaps — free advertising at intersections everywhere).
The very first Dunkin’ Donuts location now has one of those fancy new digital menu boards to go with an old-school cursive logo, and a parking lot that encourages you to back awkwardly into fast-moving traffic. What it’s not is some sort of monument to the chain on which America Runs. In fact, aside from a note on the banner outside and a few photos on the wall, it’s not much different from any other Dunkin’ Donuts in town.
It’s not fancy or ostentatious or trendy — that was never the point. It’s just Dunkies, in all its terrible perfection.