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December 21st, 2011 AARON MESH | Cover Story
 

Voodoo Child

Doughnut kingpin Tres Shannon wants to make the whole city his fun park.

THE PARTY NEVER ENDS: A woman vomits in the Ankeny Street alley outside Voodoo Doughnut.
IMAGE: James Rexroad
It’s hard to describe Shannon without thinking of cartoons. He looks like a Matt Groening drawing of Steve Zahn. He dresses like a Keebler elf gone Deadhead.

At the North Portland bar Vendetta on a Monday night, he’s wearing a paisley shirt, faux tiger-skin vest, lime green coat, purple corduroy pants, leopard-print thick-rimmed glasses and neon pink leather hat. He’s telling stories in a cowboy drawl that comes just this close to being hick, then dodges away into something that knows better.

“I’m texting Courtney Taylor-Taylor about his hair,” he says. 

The Dandy Warhols frontman is texting back: “We should burn one and rock this shit.”

Shannon uses a ruby-colored refurbished Samsung flip phone. He had a smartphone for one day and returned it: “I hated how it felt in my hand.” He rarely uses computers, and has no email address.

He does not like technical details.

“I haven’t made a doughnut in three years,” he says. “That was never my strength.”

He doesn’t keep the books, either. Pogson is the back-of-the-shop manager, with a degree in hospitality management. 

“I was always terrible at math,” Shannon says. “The last thing I want to start doing is numbers.”

We walk two blocks from Vendetta to Shannon’s house with his dog, a black Lab named Oprah Winfrey. “Voodoo Doughnut definitely paid for this house,” Shannon says. It’s a modest two-story 1890 foursquare that Shannon purchased in 2009 for $355,000. The parlor is filled with paintings, including a black-velvet Barack Obama portrait and a huge Keith Richards in charcoal. The bathroom is decorated entirely with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clowns.

We drink bourbon in Shannon’s kitchen. 

We cross the river in his Mercedes, where there are plastic scorecards and a magnifying glass from Shannon’s judging duties at Club Rouge’s Vagina Beauty Pageant in August.

Then more bourbon at Old Town strip club Magic Garden. 

Then to Dante’s for the Karaoke From Hell set, with regulars screaming “Helter Skelter” and crooning “Desperado,” accompanied by the five-piece combo. Shannon plays tambourine, gong and cowbell, and sings backing vocals. 

At the set break, we walk to Voodoo. A woman in a short gold dress is vomiting in the alley outside. Shannon finds her a bucket.

“I think we gotta get back to keeping Portland sketchy,” he says. “All Old Towns in major metropolitan cities are sketchy. We should be rough and rowdy. We should get back to it.”

But isn’t Voodoo merely packaging punk vibes into tourism dollars?

“We just saw people puking in front of my business,” Shannon replies.

The obvious next step is to open a bar.


The phone is ringing at the Portland P Palace. When Shannon finds the cordless receiver, it’s a wrong number.

“This is the Portland P Palace,” he tells the caller. “Soon to be legendary.”

P TEST: Tres Shannon kicks back in the Portland P Palace, the Northeast Sandy Boulevard bar he plans to open in January.
IMAGE: James Rexroad

Shannon’s new venture on Northeast Sandy Boulevard and 24th Avenue still looks a lot like the Timberline Tire Factory and Auto Service Center it used to be. But where the ovals painted on the windows once advertised tune-ups, they now read: “PUTT-PUTT. POOL. PINBALL.”

It’s a Wednesday night, and Shannon is giving me a tour of the dream he’s had since 1988: A bar and fun center where everything starts with the same letter as Portland.

There’s a nine-hole putt-putt golf course installed on the concrete floor. Three pool tables, including what Shannon says is the only Fusion table on the West Coast—it looks like two rectangles attached at the hip. Pinball machines. Punching bags. Pop-A-Shot. Glossy photos of Parker Posey, Pope Benedict XVI, Pepe Le Pew and Packy the Oregon Zoo elephant. A floor-to-ceiling mural of Steve Prefontaine.

And, of course, there’s a picture of Peter Pan. 

There will be Pabst Blue Ribbon: Shannon has applied for an OLCC license. The menu will include panini, pierogi, pizza and peanuts. 

Not everything will be ‘P,’” Shannon says. “We’re going to serve some hot dogs. But maybe they’ll be Polish dogs.”

Shannon bought the tire center with two septuagenarian business partners: John Hunt and Buzz Gorder, who he met through his mother. 

“John Hunt and I were kind of questionable about the name,” says Gorder, who builds corporate trade-show exhibits at Gorder Designs. “But how can you go against somebody who sells [millions of] dollars of doughnuts?” 

Shannon wants to open the Portland P Palace on Jan. 2—his 46th birthday—but he’s still waiting for city permits.

“This is the business plan,” he announces, pulling a sheet of paper from his pocket. It is covered in doodles and what might be a map. “There’s professors and pornography and pianos.”

He looks through the Palace’s giant glass windows into the parking lot, and says he hopes to install a deck and fountain. 

“In an ideal world,” he says, “it’d be like Vegas, and every hour Mount St. Helens would erupt.”

Shannon is not the chief investor—he calls himself “the chatty partner”—but he’s setting out without longtime cohort Pogson, whom he credits as the practical one behind Voodoo’s success.

“He’s venturing out a little bit,” Pogson says. “Just to have a solo gig is tough. But he’s always been a guy who’s had a couple street things going on. It’s just they’re getting bigger and more powerful now.”

Pogson is staying out of the Portland P Palace to spend more time with his wife and kids. 

Shannon has no children. He’s been dating a New Seasons Market deli manager named Michelle for more than a year.

He says his dating relationships always seem to last roughly three years: “Something happens, or they die, or they break up with me.”

On Nov. 26, 1998, a Thanksgiving afternoon, his girlfriend Catherine “Cassie” Jean Wright drowned when she was sucked into a Willamette River whirlpool near Oaks Bottom. News reports say she dove in the river after Shannon, who was trying to save her dog, another black lab. All three were pulled into a concrete pipe by the flooding river. Shannon and the dog survived. He was found in an eddy when passersby heard his screams.

Shannon won’t talk about it, except to call it “just a shitty day.” Friends say only in the last few years has he been able to celebrate Thanksgiving.

“He’s probably had to deal with a bunch of sadness,” says Haver, his lawyer. “I know he has. But he is looking forward, and looking to what’s fun.”

As Oprah Winfrey chases a tennis ball across the mini-golf holes, Shannon mulls plans. 

I WANNA BE YOUR DOG: Oprah Winfrey chases her tennis ball in the Portland P Palace.
IMAGE: James Rexroad
He and Pogson are traveling to Denver this month to talk with city officials about opening the first Voodoo location outside of Oregon. “We’re trying to be wined and dined a bit by the chamber of commerce.”

They’re also talking with Portland International Airport about opening a Voodoo shop in the terminal. 

“We’re still not ready for it,” Shannon says. “They’ll have to give us some amazing terms for us to do it. We’d probably need to be able to fry out there. You get off the plane in Portland and it smells like doughnuts.”

He doesn’t like most of the city’s innovations: the streetcar, the Burnside couplet, the removal of flowering cherry trees from Old Town. “I look at all those great old pictures of Portland, man, and I’m like, ‘Why?’” he says. “Change is stupid.”

Pogson calls him “a traditionalist,” and amid his militant zaniness, there’s something in Shannon that is old-fashioned. “He’s like a teenager and an old man at the same time,” says Victoria Porter, a Karaoke From Hell bandmate who dated Shannon in the ’90s.

But Shannon admits Voodoo has changed from the early days when he and Pogson closed the store briefly at midnight to do beer-bong rips in the lobby. 

“We’re the Man now,” he says. “If pretentious, finicky Portlanders are over it, their kids still love it, and grandmas still love it.”

As he lets his imagination run in the Portland P Palace, Shannon sounds like he really just wants to run one of the Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlours he remembers from his childhood.

“If this could be Farrell’s with a bar,” he says, “that’d be pretty great.”

He’d prefer the entire city to be an amusement park.

“What they should do is take the old ski lifts from Mount Hood and have them go down the hill at OHSU,” he says. “This town needs a good roller coaster. If it was really scary and great, I bet people from Portland would ride that all the time.”


STARLIGHT PARADE: Tres Shannon celebrates atop the tables outside Voodoo Doughnut on a Monday night.
IMAGE: James Rexroad
We’re driving somewhere amid the overhead cranes and loading docks of Swan Island at 3 am Tuesday, and Shannon is sure Occupy Portland will be here. It isn’t.

What is here is the entrance to the processing shipyard of Service Steel. A dozen hardhatted workers are waiting in the parking lot to start their shifts. 

“I’ll hop out and talk,” Shannon tells Cheese. “We just wanna keep rolling and be cool.”

He gets out of the car and shakes every one of the worker’s hands. “You guys like the Rolling Stones?” he asks. They do.

“Could I put in an application or something?” Shannon asks them as we turn the Mercedes around. “I’m a good worker, man.”

We drive to another shipyard entrance and stop at the security gate. Shannon is still hunting for Occupy. He tells the guard we’re with WW.

“We were kind of wondering if we could see the story,” he says.

“The only story you’re gonna find out here are shipbuilders and blue-collar workers,” the guard says. He is very aggrieved about Occupy Portland’s blockade—which is actually at Port of Portland terminals 4, 5 and 6, about seven miles away. “Keep picking on the damn banks and leave the workers alone.”

As we drive back to Old Town, Shannon grows pensive, pointing out the locations of his favorite buildings that have been demolished.

“They’re blocking the Port and yet they have no idea why it’s called Portland,” he mutters. “Burnside is the best fucking street. We don’t know how cool we are. We tore half of it down. We chopped down the cherry trees.”

And for the only time tonight, Tres Shannon—Portland’s own Peter Pan—seems sad he couldn’t preserve more of his youth.

“If people are so into this town,” he says, “why are they trying to change it?”

But as he drops me off outside my apartment, Shannon cheers up. As the car pulls away, he leans his head out the passenger window and grins, as if the whole night had been an elaborate game.

“Just make me look cool!” he calls out. “Almost Famous!” 

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