The Time Is Now

Support local, independent reporting.

Help the city we love by joining Friends of Willamette Week.


Voodoo Child

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

At 2:42 am, Tres Shannon decides we need to see if Occupy Portland has shut down the Port of Portland.

It's a Tuesday morning, 30 minutes after Shannon's weekly set at Dante's with his Karaoke From Hell band. Shannon—the co-owner of Voodoo Doughnut, the nightlife ringmaster of Old Town, and the man about to unveil a mysterious second venture called the Portland P Palace—is sitting in the back of his 1992 Mercedes 300E in his reserved parking space on Southwest Ankeny Street, bitching that Willamette Week did not endorse his run for mayor in 1992. 

He looks for the bright side.

"Thank God, I don't have to hang out at City Hall and deal with the Occupy Portland shit," he says, adding without a pause: "What we should go do is go to the Port and see what the fuck's going on. I'd love to go do that. You wanna go?"

This is a good place to mention that Shannon has spectacular weed.

"Hard right," Shannon tells his designated driver—whose name is Colby, but Shannon calls him Cheese—and we roll east across the Steel Bridge. We have to slow down on Northeast Broadway because Shannon has dropped his roach in the passenger seat of his car. 

We coast down to Swan Island, where Shannon says Occupy is blocking the Port. The car stereo blasts Rolling Stones bootlegs at top volume. The windows are open and freezing air slaps me in the face and it feels good.

"The Stones!" Shannon says. "Are our lights on, by the way?"

Tres Shannon is riding high.


"Personally, I couldn't name another doughnut spot in another city that has national recognition," says Megan Conway, vice president of communications for Travel Portland. "When you talk about Portland, there's always someone in the room who says, 'Oh, have you had a Voodoo doughnut?'"

Voodoo will celebrate its millionth customer by March, though it's probably had more. This summer, Voodoo sold a million doughnuts in June, July and August. Pink boxes are a common sight in the security lines of Portland International Airport. The shop's website gets 60 million hits a year. In 2009, according to Shannon, Voodoo Doughnut was the eighth most-searched place name in the world on Google.

"We struck gold with Voodoo," says Shannon's business partner, Kenneth "Cat Daddy" Pogson. "The worse the economy got, the longer our lines got. We are kind of the rock stars of the doughnut world. We show up with the pink box, and it's like the parting of the Red Sea."

At age 45, Shannon is proof that not only are there second acts in Portlandian lives, but the encore can be far more celebrated and lucrative. 

Born Richard Shannon III in Portland Adventist Hospital in 1966, Shannon was nicknamed "Tres" by his parents. They split up when he was 4, and Tres moved to Colorado with his dad. 

As a teenager, he made money in the summer by hanging out at a Dairy Queen and challenging tourists to banana split-eating contests. He attended only one day of college. 

He moved back to Portland in 1984. Six years later, he and Benjamin Arthur Ellis opened their riotous all-ages club the X-Ray Cafe, an alterna-kid destination where the walls were covered in black velvet paintings and acts ranged from Green Day to Ernest Truly's Bare Bottom Spanking and Salvation. 

"He literally would give anybody a chance, no matter how little talent they had," says Tony Green, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Justice who used to play gigs at the X-Ray. "What most people didn't see was that he took very seriously being an Old Town business owner."

Shannon and Ellis shuttered the X-Ray Cafe in 1994 for lack of cash. For the next decade, Shannon supported himself by booking shows at rock club Berbati's Pan, and with his Karaoke From Hell gigs. 

For 19 years after returning to Portland, he rented a room from his mother.

In 2003, Shannon and Pogson opened Voodoo Doughnut because they wanted a business and were too burned out on nightlife to open a bar. They served doughnuts 24 hours a day from an Old Town hole-in-the-wall. Originally, Shannon wanted to theme the shop after Rod Stewart and call it Every Picture Tells a Story Doughnut.

Instead, Voodoo painted its walls in the same Day-Glo colors as the X-Ray, and served its pastries in neon pink boxes festooned with dancing witch doctors. It performed weddings ($300 still buys a legal Universal Life ceremony, plus doughnuts and coffee for six people). It created a doughnut topped with M&Ms called the Marshall Matters, and the phallus-shaped, cream-filled Cock 'n' Balls.

The Multnomah County Health Department banned the Nyquil Glazed and the Vanilla Pepto Crushed Tums doughnuts. The city named the Portland Cream the official doughnut of Portland. This summer, Shannon and Pogson set a Guinness world record for the largest box of doughnuts: 666 pounds. They held a wedding ceremony for two housecats.

The company now has three locations—it launched Voodoo Doughnut Too in a former Autoland used-car dealership on Northeast Davis Street in 2008, and Voodoo Doughnut Tres in Eugene in 2010. The original Old Town location reopened this summer with a renovated interior carved from the closed Berbati's Pan, complete with three stained-glass windows and a large neon sign featuring a pretzel-stick Voodoo doll.

Like any successful roadside attraction, all three shops are mostly dedicated to roped-off, curling queues. 

That's a lot of money for fried dough.

"The magic at Voodoo is not in rolling a doughnut in Cap'n Crunch," says Kohel Haver, Shannon's lawyer. "That ain't the magic. People come to Voodoo Doughnut because they want to be part of something."

Standing inside Voodoo on a weeknight—with Lou Reed playing on the speakers and customers lined up beside the collages of New York Times obituaries—it's easy to see the appeal. Visitors can dabble in bohemian decadence and emerge with a harmless 95-cent treat.

But the success also remains counterintuitive: In a town where foodie culture is king, a doughnut isn't pushing the exotic envelope. Even the Voodoo motto suggests the secret isn't the doughnut: "The magic is in the hole."

So what is the uncanny allure in the center?

"We get to run a circus," Pogson says. "That was our plan all along. And my friend Tres can run a circus."

Shannon, whose mayoral bid wasn't even mentioned by name in WW's 1992 primary endorsements—though he came to the interview with a bullwhip and finished fourth in a field of 12—is now commonly known as the mayor of Old Town.

He's the closest thing Portland has to a mascot. Voodoo has made appearances on Leno, Conan, the Travel Channel, the Food Network and The Simpsons' 20th anniversary special. 

Shannon gets a cameo in January's second season of Portlandia. He plays God.

When I call him to ask for an interview, Shannon asks what the piece will say. I cite a scene from the movie Almost Famous, where the young reporter protagonist responds to a rocker's request to "Just make us look cool" with the reply, "I will quote you warmly and accurately."

He says we should go out drinking.


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."

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. 

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."

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!”