Doughnut-deprived East Coast expats line up for a nostalgic fix

When I was in college, I saved a Dunkin’ Donuts from almost certain destruction.

I was at Tufts University just outside of Boston, and I’d stumbled off campus to present my hangover with a peace offering of doughy bagel and hazelnut iced coffee. Apparently the Dunkin’ staff were similarly impaired on that Sunday morning. When my bagel lodged in the toaster and proceeded to burst into flame, no one seemed to notice. Smoke started to rise from the machine. Still nothing.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I think my bagel’s on fire.”

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m basically a hero. They gave me the next bagel for free.

They didn’t, however, give me lifetime front-of-line privileges, which would’ve come in handy at the grand opening of the new Dunkin’ Donuts in Walnut Creek, California, where the wait was more than an hour long at 11 a.m. on Wednesday. Parents pushed strollers, teenagers Snapchatted, Joe Jonas sang about baked goods and beaches over the stereo system. Every so often, the crowd shuffled a few steps closer to the temple of chocolate-frosted, jelly-filled delights.

For the last 15 years, the Bay Area has been deprived of its Dunkin’. While there are more than 8,000 stores across the U.S. and 3,200 in 36 countries abroad (in the Philippines, you can order the Quezo Duo, a plain donut topped with cream cheese frosting and grated parmesan), Northern Californians have gone without.

So they showed up in force on Wednesday to sample their first Boston Kreme or spend a couple bucks on edible nostalgia. Decked out in Patriots and Red Sox gear, former Bostonians Patrick Glenn and his parents, Gary and Evelyn, waited eagerly for a taste of home.

“When I fly into Logan Airport, the first thing I do is find the nearest Dunkin’ kiosk and get a coffee and a Boston Kreme,” Glenn said.

When the company started to sell its coffee beans in retail outlets, he remembered walking into his girlfriend’s apartment in L.A. and sniffing the air. “Is this Dunkin’?” he asked, so deep was the aroma of the brand’s coffee embedded in his brain.

East Coast transplant Molly Zilli, waiting in line with her kids and a couple of siblings, grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts. “It’s just part of my childhood,” she said. “Our grandparents used to take us to Dunkin’ Donuts Sunday after church. It was a special treat.”

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My own love for Dunkin’ goes beyond averted fires and college hangovers. It is deep and irrational, the product of growing up in Boston, where special occasions were celebrated with Munchkin donut holes and buying iced coffee (hazelnut with cream and sugar) before school was a rite of passage. In high school, I ate a Dunkin’ bagel for lunch almost every day. They’re sort of bland and rubbery—in a good way.

In Walnut Creek, franchise owner Matt Cobo stood in front of a balloon arch by the door, beaming at customers and welcoming them to the land of French crullers, Dunkaccinos and chocolate glazeds. Since opening at 5 a.m., he said they’d sold 8,152 donuts.

As a California native he didn’t totally understand the DD obsession, but he enjoyed hearing guests’ stories. “People get emotional about it,” Cobo marveled.

As I waited for my turn inside the shop, an older couple approached the line, which stretched down the sidewalk and around the corner.

“What are they giving away here?” the guy asked, perplexed.

“Nothing,” I said. “They’re just selling donuts.”