Talk about a one-two punch to the belly.
North Carolina first loses its standing as a progressive Southern state because of the cynical machinations of legislators who’ve convinced the less discerning among us that boogie men are hiding behind each bathroom stall.
Now, it’s losing its doughnuts.
A Luxembourg-based company has agreed to buy Krispy Kreme, a Tar Heel institution since the first glazed rolled off the conveyor belt in 1937, and is already implying that the new emphasis will be on selling more coffee, not more doughnuts.
When most of us first heard about the sale of a company so closely identified with Winston-Salem and North Carolina, we probably figured “What’s the big deal? At least it’s staying in-state.”
Then, we realized the new owner was not in Laurinburg, a small town in Scotland County, but in Luxembourg, a small, very rich European country.
North Carolinians have never minded sharing great things that got their start here. The world enjoys such iconic Carolina concoctions as Pepsi Cola, Cheerwine, Vick’s Vapor Rub and Goody’s headache powder, but do any of those products have the visceral or civic connection that Krispy Kreme does?
Schools throughout North Carolina have sold Krispy Kreme doughnuts for assorted school fundraisers, and I was always one of the most successful sales kids. No, I didn’t possess an ability better than anyone else’s to peddle doughnuts to my neighbors, but I possessed an ability – after taking orders from said neighbors – to eat most of the ones I’d ordered and to find myself on the hook for the cost.
That led invariably to going, hat and tummy in hand, to my aunt and asking for money to pay for them. My neighbors, bless their hearts, knew something wasn’t quite right and seldom asked what happened to the doughnuts they’d ordered. They merely had to look at my steatopygian stature to know what had happened to them.
You’d think Krispy Kreme would learn from what happened to NASCAR, when that Southern institution got above its raisin’ and started expanding to New York, California and Pennsylvania, among other places, while neglecting the Southern cities and towns that made it. Its popularity ebbed and hasn’t gotten back on track.
If we’re not careful, seeing such quintessentially American companies as Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon and now Krispy Kreme no longer being American-owned is precisely the kind of thing that some fear could lead to the political rise of a xenophobic demagogue.
Nah, that could never happen.
This isn’t the first time KK has pulled something like this. Several years ago, when its doughnuts became the hot new thing – enjoyed, I fear, ironically by hipsters poking fun at us – the company expanded faster than my belly after a school fundraiser. You could get ’em “hot now” inside Harrods, the hoity-toitiest of hoity-toity stores in London, but not in Durham.
The Harrods store has since closed, and one opened last year in Durham.
When the Atkins diet craze came and some quacks erroneously concluded that doughnuts were not an essential part of a healthy diet, the Kreme’s stock dropped.
To whom did the company turn for solace and for renewed profits?
Luxembourg is where one Battle of the Bulge was fought. If KK catches a toehold there, they’ll be fighting a different battle of the bulge. Clay Constantinou, who served as ambassador to Luxembourg under President Clinton, assured me Wednesday that the country loves American culture. “America has liberated Luxembourg three times,” he said, “once during WWI and twice during WWII. ... It is one of the most pro-American countries in Europe.”
So they pay us back by taking our doughnuts?
The buyer, JAB Beech, has representatives in France, Germany and Holland, he said, so there could soon be hundreds of stores in those countries. “It’s an excellent company, and I have no doubt it will do well there.”
Of course it will. There are two businesses that are immune to the vagaries of the economy. Doughnuts is one; my editor wouldn’t let me say what the other is.
A rose, the Bard of Avon wrote, by any other name would smell as sweet. He said nothing, though, about doughnuts made by a European corporation.
I predict that after Krispy Kreme’s seduction by Beech ends, as most seductions do, a Southern company will reclaim it.
So, let not your hearts be troubled, fellow North Carolina doughnut lovers, and rest assured: The yeast shall rise again (in North Carolina!)