Sunday, May 30, 2010
Saturday May 22nd 2010
Donuts Plus, 44th and Chestnut, Philadelphia, PA
I don’t make it over to West Philly too much. It’s almost like a different city than my neighborhood, and the traffic involved in going that way rarely justifies your reason for being there. But on those rare occasions when I do find myself in that part of the city, even just sort of close to that part of the city, I make it a point to hit up Donuts Plus.
Sharing a shopping center with an army recruitment center, laundromat, pornographic video store, African restaurant, and head shop, people don’t usually take me seriously when I tell them what an amazing place Donuts Plus is. They just shrug it off. To me Donuts Plus is a symbol of purity, a ray of hope and decency cast upon a city that needs just that, and when I think about Philly, no joke, Donuts Plus is one of the first things that comes to my mind. Their specialty is obviously donuts, but this is the first place I noticed the entrepreneurial Philly business style of taking something like a donut business and branching it out in as many directions as you could go. It’s part vintage arcade, water ice stand, hot dog shop, mini mart, and coffee shop. You get a calling card for Ghana and some Advil with your coffee and donut.
What impressed me so much about this place when I first came in back in 2003, was the price and the quality. My combination of items, which I’ve come to refer to as “The Deluxe” is a large iced coffee ($1.50), plain bagel with cream cheese ($1.00), and Boston creme donut ($.60), totaling $3.10. This is with the recent price increase included, it used to be .75 cents for the bagel and cream cheese, but even a dollar can’t be beat anywhere else. Not only is all this stuff super cheap, but its actually good. You might think a donut is just a donut, and these are definitely classic regular donuts, but they’re fresh and moist, with just the right amount of creme inside. The bagels are good and chewy, maybe they could use a little bit more cream cheese, but at least they don’t go overboard with it, and you do get what you pay for. The coffee normally wouldn’t be anything special, I don’t know what kind it is, but I’m sure its some store bought drip machine brand, which with my coffee snobbery increasing isn’t the kind of thing I’m into at all these days, but it feels right drinking it in this situation. The size of the coffee has a lot to do with it, being served in a to-go soup container with a straw hole scissored into the lid.
The first time I came to Philly after being a proud new owner of Old Vanny, my beloved van, a total Cinderella moment happened as I sat in the drivers seat, put my bag of donuts and bagels on the floor and with my right hand placed the gigantic oversized coffee right into the cup holder. It fit perfectly, snugly, right into the cup holder. I sat and admired the sight of it, basking in a moment of true perfection, feeling good about life. Nothing could have been more meant to be. I don’t mean to get all emotional on you, but that was a special day for me.
Whereas I think working in the pizza truck would be a fun job, I could easily see getting real depressed working in a strip mall donut shop, but that’s not how it is. It’s run by an Asian family, the male workers sometimes seem indifferent, but the mother and daughter team are constantly smiling, enjoying their work. I’m sure there’s been times where I didn’t get to go to Donuts Plus for a full year, maybe even more, and yet they remember me, and have a vague recollection of what I like to get.
“It’s been a while.”, she said to me as I walked in. I couldn’t help but agree, it had been a couple months at least. I ordered the bagel first, knowing it would take a little time for them to toast it. “Iced coffee..?”, she was trying to remember everything included in The Deluxe. I nodded. “No sugar right?”, correct you are. It’s a professional operation they got going on here.
Sipping my coffee, eating my bagel, munching my donut, experiencing all these wonderful pleasures at once, I thought back to the pizza truck, how they acted like jerks, tried to steal my change, gave me a crap product, and bestowed some of the suckyness of their lives upon mine, and I realized how a place like Donuts Plus actually should be the same way. That’s why it’s a real gem. You walk into a dismal looking donut shop next to the laundromat, expectations set real low, prepared to be spit on and screamed at, and instead you get some nice people giving you good things, things you want, at an exceptionally reasonable price. If these people can do it, why can’t everyone else?
Donuts Plus should be a business role model, it’s something to respect and look up to, they care, they take pride in what they’re doing, and unfortunately they’re outnumbered by places with the opposite approach. They do what they do well, and I can’t imagine with too great a reward at the end of the day, yet they keep at it. I know it might sound silly, but this is truly one of my favorite places in the entire world, and I feel that no visit to Philadelphia could be complete without stopping in to check it out, if for no other reason than to guarantee yourself one positive experience during your stay.