Chicago's Doughnut Vault
There are certain things that I’ll stand an hour and a half in line for…
Free airline miles…80% off at J. Crew…Bradley Cooper’s kissing booth…you know, important stuff. But if the words, “I’d never wait in line an hour and a half for donuts” ever came out of my mouth, I was proved a liar on my recent trip to Chicago for the Windy City Tweetup.
Sufficiently fueled with caffeine from the best coffee shop east of the Mississippi, Aaron and I set out to find the Doughnut Vault. Raul saw a list by Food & Wine naming it as one of the best places to get doughnuts in the country. I’m a sucker for lists and the word “best” so I volunteered, along with Aaron, to get breakfast. Meanwhile, Raul was laid up in his fancy Sofitel hotel room.
The place was easy enough to find, and we were even able to get a parking spot right in front of the entrance, which was great because it was starting to rain. Always prepared, I grabbed my umbrella and quickly walked to get in line. I looked at the people in front and they looked so happy. These doughnuts must be fantastic, I thought. I mean, look at how excited these people are to just walk in the door of the Doughnut Vault! I knew I was in for a treat.
Aaron and I walked to the edge of the block to get into the orderly queue. It wouldn’t be so bad, we’d be in and out in about 15 minutes tops. As I reached the corner, I glanced to the left and nearly spit the delicious-tasting honey bear latte out of my mouth. The line didn’t end at the corner. It stretched probably 40 yards down the side of the block. Some form of ”Are you freaking kidding me?” might have come from my mouth.
Aaron and I took our places at the back of the line. As we walked past all the people, I noticed strange looks on their faces. It was a mix of satisfaction that they were no longer where I was headed and sympathy for what I was about to endure. As I was cussing and discussing Raul, Aaron and I made a deal: We would wait 30 minutes max. My iPhone stopwatch was set.
To say the line moved slowly would be an understatement. In fact, molasses on a cold day moved faster than this line. People were like drones waiting for their fried, sugary goodness. To pass the time, I plotted ways to steal donuts from the people walking past me. I knew I could handle some on my own, but began to enlist others in line. I created elaborate scenarios that combined tactics of the Three Stooges and Mission: Impossible.
Thirty minutes passed and we’d barely made any progress, but people were dropping like flies. They’d throw up their hands in exasperation and disappear into their cars. Aaron and I decided that we’d continue to wait. I couldn’t be that much longer, right?
Still plotting the donut holders’ demises, I turned my attention to capitalizing on this Doughnut Vault craze. I thought that if I lived in Chicago, I’d be the first one in line every day. I’d buy as many as I could possibly carry. Then I’d sit around the corner and sell them for three times the price. And for those that refused to buy my bootleg donuts, I’d offer coffee, giant cups of coffee, for cheap. Then I’d set up a Porta Potty and charge for people to use it. It’s amazing what a mind can do when it’s deprived of sustenance.
After an hour, Aaron and I finally turned the corner. Surely, it wouldn’t be much longer. After all, we could at least see the menu painted on the brick wall. We began to construct our order. There were five of us eating and only a few varieties: buttermilk, gingerbread, and glazed. At $3 per donut, that fried dough should come with a lottery ticket and possibly a cubic zirconia.
We watched as people happily exited with arms full of brown boxes. There was no need to push them down and take their donuts, as Aaron and I finally reached the front door. This is what we’d stood in the rain, plotted the attack of innocent people, and eagerly anticipated for an hour-and-15-minutes. I was so excited that I had to capture the moment with a reflection shot. And do you now how pissed I would have been if I didn’t have cash?
I swear I heard bells ring as I crossed the threshold of the Doughnut Vault. I had no clue what awaited me.
It was a tiny room. Actually, I wouldn’t even call it a room. It was a hallway at best. I felt like Veruca Salt walking into that shrinking room in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It was disconcerting to say the least. One woman stood behind the counter taking and filling orders AND accepting money.
You’ve got to be kidding me!
I was furious. I’m not an expert in the restaurant biz, but there is a better way to run this circus. Perhaps send a person outside and let them take down the orders. Have another person filling those orders in the back. Then have one person taking money. If I were in charge of the Doughnut Vault, I’d have people in and out in no time flat.
But the owners probably want lines. Lines mean a place is popular. People want to go to popular places. The allure of a popular place brings dumbasses like me in that are willing to stand in line for an hour-and-a-half in the rain. I’d gotten my first peek behind the Wizard’s curtain.
I felt duped.
Aaron and I forked over the money for the donuts and got into his car just before the meter expired. We were headed back to the Sofitel with the donuts.“Raul better appreciate these damn things.” I could not believe that I’d wasted an hour-and-a-half of my precious time in Chicago waiting in line for stupid donuts. They better boost my IQ and prevent aging, I thought to myself.
I sent Raul a text letting him know that his prized donuts and cold coffee had arrived. I might as well have rung the triangle for the cowboys, because he was in my suite in no time flat. I ripped the brown box open exposing the source of my frustration. As Raul reached for his chocolate-glazed donut with sprinkles, I glared at him,“You better love that freaking donut.”
He took a bite of the over-sized disk, and I watched his face.“Well, is it one of the best donuts in the USA?” Raul knew the answer he had to give, and if he was lying, I couldn’t tell.
I took a bite of my gingerbread donut and my anger swelled. It was a good donut, and I would certainly eat it. Would it make even my top 10? Absolutely not. Was it worth standing in the rain for an hour-and-a-half? Hell no! Did I get angry writing this post nearly six weeks later? Hell yes!
Final Doughnut Vault verdict? It’s good, but I wouldn’t wait more than 10 minutes for it again.
For more of Leah Walker's travels, visit Leah Travels: Life Is Short & The Road Is Long.