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Entenmann's Rich Frosted Chocolate Donut - Brooklyn, New York
Once again, National Donut Day is upon us--a holiday celebrated on the first Friday of June which has gotten significant traction over the past few years due to the escalation of wellness culture and the feeling of "giving one's self permission" to eat something that is, undoubtedly, "bad" for you, at least on a chemical level. It has also seen a huge boost due to the internet, as have most of these quirky holidays, though to be fair to National Donut Day, it has been celebrated since 1938. This was also accelerated due to Dunkin's full on embrace of influencer culture, complete with having a drink called "The Charli," a cold brew with three pumps of caramel swirl and whole milk, which is the daily drink order of Charli D'Amato, the most followed person on TikTok. Dunkin has made a hilarious switch from "blue collar black coffee joint" to the FIFTH most beloved food-related brand by Gen Z, behind Oreos, Doritos, Chick-Fil-A, Pizza Hut, and Sprite. Clearly as a college educator and spending my entire existence around 18-22 year-olds have rubbed off on me because I too love all of these things. Except Pizza Hut, which I enjoy in the moment but then feel like I am slowly dying for the next eight hours. Elder Millennial, baby!
I have waxed on about my love of Dunkin & how special it was when that white, orange, and magenta box made its way through our front door on weekend mornings. When I think of donuts, I think of Dunkin first--steeped in nostalgia and love and excitement and the powdered sugar from a lemon donut making me change my shirt before the day can even get off the ground.
But there is another donut that will always have my heart: the Entenmann's Rich Frosted Chocolate Donut.
This was the workhorse of donuts of my youth--each Dunkin visit was a special occasion, but Entenmann's was an easy purchase; a trip to the Grand Union in Flemington to get groceries typically meant picking up a box of 8; a fascinating choice considering donuts seem to always come in dozens. Like most supermarket baked goods they are best when they are cold--stuck in the refrigerator as soon as they come out of the grocery bag. Part of the joy of consumption is the process; the coldness would cause the chocolate shell to stick to the other donut, and so you'd have to carefully wriggle the donut free from its twin with a satisfying crack.
Entenmann's was founded in 1898 in Flatbush in Brooklyn. William Entenmann came over from Stuttgart, Germany and worked in a bread factory in New York before opening his own bakery. He was known for providing a delivery service, bringing his horse-drawn carriage up and down Rogers Avenue and bringing freshly baked goods door to door. Two years later, William moved to Bay Shore, Long Island after his son, William Jr. fell ill with rheumatic fever, at the suggestion of the family doctor. William Jr. eventually recovered and took over the business, continuing to deliver baked goods throughout Long Island and Brooklyn, becoming a favorite of Frank Sinatra, who would order their French Crumb Cake every week. The delivery service continued into the 1950s, when William Jr. passed away. William Jr's widow Martha and her sons were the ones who essentially transformed the business into what it is today. They did away with making savory breads and focused entirely on sweets. They also transformed from a local neighborhood bakery to a massive operation, breaking ground on a five-acre bakery in Bay Shore in 1961, where Entenmann's cakes were still baked until 2014. After exchanging hands multiple times throughout the years, Entenmann's is now owned by the Mexican multinational company Bimbo, which just so happens to be the United States' largest bakery company, owning Sara Lee, Thomas English Muffins, and Ball Park hot dog buns.
The real genius to the Entenmann's empire, however, is credited entirely to Martha Entenmann--widow of William Entenmann Jr. Recognizing that people were more likely to purchase a baked good if they could see the item, she invented the see-through cake box--cutting a hole and putting a little plastic window in the top of the box. While I am unable to track down if this particular box was patented, giving the phrase "getting this bread," an even deeper meaning, this allowed the bakery to move away from the delivery model and toward partnering with supermarkets, becoming the "in-house" bakery for many grocery stores who could not afford to have their own bakery in-store. The packaging also allowed for the packaging to be stored on supermarket shelves, rather than being put in grocery store display cases and then packaged up by an employee, making it even more appealing for supermarkets to carry the items.
Growing up, the Entenmann's was always on an endcap--meaning that it was at the end of a grocery store aisle, which companies would lease from supermarkets. In retail, items on an endcap will sell at a faster pace than non-endcap items. Where I live now, Entenmann's are on a "gondola," a free-standing structure in the middle of the store. There was always a joy in sorting through the different boxes to see which cake looked best--birthdays and weekends were always punctuated with the Entenmann's pound cake & I always loved the slightly undercooked ones, with the sticky buttery top of the cake cracking through. My mother's birthday cakes growing up were always Entenmann's cakes--I imagine many people who grew up in Brooklyn have similar stories of sticking wax candles into a Fudge Iced Golden Cake (refrigerated, of course) or the Brownie Ring cake (sadly discontinued, with its mocha icing). There is value in seeing--in making our own choices, in recognizing consistency but a lack of uniformity.
Next week I will be visiting my parents in their new home in Florida. I have already scoped out the donut places in the Tampa area (Cosmic Donuts looks promising as does the St. Pete Bagel Shop!), and I am excited to see them. Where I grew up doesn't have a ton of exciting things, but it does have my favorite donuts on the planet, made fresh from Becca's Bakery in the Dutch Farmer's Market in Flemington. To me, those donuts feel like home in a way that I can't quite describe--you can watch the bonneted women take the donuts out of the fryer before injecting them with custard, or jelly, or lemon curd. Saying goodbye to the Farmer's Market was as big of a ritual for me as saying goodbye to my old house in New Jersey, taking an awkward self-timed photo of myself in front of the house as I balanced my phone on the roof of my parents' SUV.
Ever since my parents' move I've been walking past the Entenmann's gondola with a piqued interest--it has been far too long since I had an Entenmann's donut, partially because I love the ritual of getting a dozen donuts every Saturday morning; I enjoy that feeling even more than the donuts themselves sometimes. But the world is opening back up, slowly. Tasha and I have a brunch date tomorrow, which we have been looking forward to for two weeks. There is no need for the Dunkin run, or the Daylight run, or the Babe's run. The brunch menu has fancy beignets, which may or may not happen--the same powdered sugar cascading down my shirt like it did as a child. And so, today, on National Donut Day, I purchased a box of Entenmann's. As soon as I got home, I put them in the fridge, on top of the eggs. They'll be there in the morning, like they were there for me so many mornings; whether in the Cape Cod-style house on Old York Road, or the second-floor condo, or the house I left behind but always dream about, or tucked underneath the cupboard in my Nan's kitchen with a stack of paper plates obscuring the see-through plastic. And while this donut will have been made in a bakery in Gadsden, Alabama and shipped south, rather than on a street in Brooklyn or a plant on Long Island, it'll bring me someplace better than anywhere.