This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in July 2015.
Back when stores and restaurants closed early, doughnut shops became a sanctuary for graveyard shift cops working the beat. They stayed open late and offered a place safe from the weather where police officers could kick back for a few minutes, finish a report, drink a cup of coffee, or eat a snack that didn’t require a lot of waiting around. They tend to get a lot of very sudden and important calls. Maybe because of that, somewhere along the way to present-day America, a stereotype grew: Cops fucking love doughnuts.
In New Orleans, that doesn’t mean much. There aren’t many doughnut shops left: time took many and Hurricane Katrina wiped out some more. There are a few joints remaining in the surrounding suburbs and a couple of new artisan shops, but those aren’t close to New Orleans’ version of the mean streets where police have to patrol or offer an easy-to-visit atmosphere.
More than four years ago, three detectives in the New Orleans Police Department decided to open a doughnut shop on Canal Street, a major road beginning at the base of the French Quarter and unspooling across the heart of the city. Since then, Blue Dot Donuts, an ode to a stereotype and a welcome addition to New Orleans Midcity neighborhood’s doughnut desert, has grown into a welcome reprieve from the difficulty of carrying a police badge.
It’s funny because police don’t like doughnuts,” said Ronald Laporte, who opened the business with Dennis Gibliant and Brandon Singleton. “They like to go sit somewhere all night long and drink coffee for free.”
Laporte, a New Orleans native, spent 30 years in the NOPD, retiring last May as a lieutenant. At 52, he’s still enthusiastic and gregarious, remaining unbroken by his former profession. But his day-to-day is dedicated to Blue Dot Doughnuts, and that’s all he wants to do anymore.
“I wouldn’t want to do [police work] now,” he said. “When I came on 30 years ago, it was a lot of fun. We had a lot of support from the city and the community. Now there’s less and less police. They didn’t hire police for the last five years, so they’re trying to make up for the police who either retired, quit, died, got fired, or moved on.”
The NOPD faces a pretty terrible manpower problem. Since 2010, the department has shrunk by a third and continues to hemorrhage approximately one cop every three days. The city and current chief of police are attempting to combat the issue with a pay raise that would bring the police officers in line with the Louisiana State Police by the start of 2016, but the NOPD still lags a considerable amount behind the average southeast US city. There is also a new bounty program that pays officers $1,000 if they bring in new recruits.
“There was no recruitment and it really hurt the city, so now they’re trying to hire people,” Laporte said. “But it’s hard to find people. That’s part of the problem. Right now, they’re so in demand and understaffed that it’s not safe. I don’t think it’s safe to be a police officer right now.”
In the past two years a New Orleans police officer was killed in a hit-and-run and six others were shot, including Officer Daryle Holloway who died June 20 when he was transporting a suspect, Travis Boys. Though Boys was handcuffed with his hands behind his back and locked in the back portion of the police SUV, he managed to move his hands forward and climb through a partition in the car to shoot Holloway. It’s more than shaken the morale of the police department, another contributing factor to recruitment.
Laporte’s two partners still work as police officers, and that’s how they all met—on the job.
“We all worked at the 2nd District Uptown in New Orleans, and we were all detectives,” said Gibliant, who at 47 continues to work as an NOPD detective. “I worked on Magazine Street, Ronnie was the assistant commander, and we all sat down one day over this doughnut shop idea. We all kept talking about it, and it glued itself together as we went along. It was like, ‘Do you want to invest?’ I’m like, ‘Jesus, do we even know what we’re doing?’”
They didn’t. None of them knew how to make a doughnut. They had no knowledge of what made one good, bad, or interesting. All they knew was that they liked the treats and how people reacted to them. That was enough to start the business. They began their research in earnest by visiting different shops, eating the product, talking to the people who made it, and they also ordered a DVD from Portland, Oregon, that espoused the tenants of a good doughnut business. The latter no one remembers fondly.
“It was something where you just want to put a gun to your head and start spinning the cylinder,” Gibliant said. “But it’s just kind of sticking your neck out there, asking questions and trying to retain it all. When you first open, it’s a train wreck. It takes a while to get things organized, but we did OK. We pulled it together. Three assholes don’t make a perfect asshole, that’s for sure.”
Their first baker quit because of an intense paranoia that he would be fired, but both Gibliant and Laporte vehemently deny that they ever considered it. “They’re kind of cuckoo, these doughnut guys,” Laporte said. “They’re a little wacky. They work night hours and maybe that grease goes to their brain.” But they were able to find a regular doughnut baker in Zach Menicucci-Foster.
Born and raised in Montana on the Flathead Indian Reservation, Menicucci-Foster cut his teeth working in his family’s bakery in nearby Deer Lodge. When he was 14, he started to go to the bakery with his grandfather and uncle at midnight and work until morning. A few years later, he sat down with his dad, a mortician, and told him he wanted to be a baker. His dad told him he’d need schooling, so he decided to move to New Orleans for college.
After toiling in New Orleans in the wholesale bread baking business for a couple years, he put in an application at Blue Dot, and the three owners brought him on. Doughnut making is in his blood, Menicucci-Foster says.
“To me, it’s very much a dying art. It’s very hard to get across to people that that’s what I do. But one of my favorite things that I like to say is that I bleed sugar and cough flour. I love it.”
He also wears it. Beyond just the flour that his consistently black shirt is covered in every morning after a shift that begins between 10 PM and midnight, he’s got his share of doughnut-related ink. He carries ‘Dough Life’ stenciled across his belly in Tupac lettering, a 60 quart Hobart mixer on his chest, and the Pillsbury Doughboy holding a doughnut on his bicep. He plans to add a rolling pin and his Montana area code written in frosting soon.
“I’m technically a pastry chef,” Menicucci-Foster said, “but I consider myself more of a baker. I know how to do the decorating of the cakes, the classical French pastries, and stuff like that, but I prefer to bake the bread or doughnuts. It reminds me of my roots.”
He also enjoys it because, to him, doughnuts are the great equalizer.
“Just about everybody across the board, all walks of life, will usually come in for a doughnut, especially if you have a good one.”
Though initially nervous about working for police officers, Menicucci-Foster found that working for them was no different than other bosses he’s had in the past, except these guys tend to carry a gun and handcuffs. Their hours are a bit stranger, too, he said. They sometimes come in when Menicucci-Foster is baking in the middle of the night because they’ll just have finished their shift. But the upside is that he gets to see them in uniform.
Gibliant glibly described his partners pairing with Menicucci-Foster as a “match made in hell,” though he was joking, that probably was not too far from the truth inititally. The baker comes from an Indian reservation, where agents of the government aren’t looked kindly upon.
“Our reservation has a different stigma with police officers,” Menicucci-Foster said. “I mean, it’s a reservation. It’s not big on government, you know? I never really had problems with them, but it’s always been a thing to handle yourself.”
Perhaps it’s that same stigma that continues to push the three police officers further into their doughnut business. Gibliant also looks forward to his doughnut-filled retirement, even though being a police officer runs in the family.
“My father was, my great-grandfather was—I don’t know why but it kind of calls you,” he said. “I’m ready to retire. I’ve done my time. I’ll finish in a little bit longer. Ronnie’s retired; he retired last year. You miss the guys who you worked with throughout the years, but it’s changing. The younger guys are coming in, and I don’t know a lot of people anymore.”
“It’s kind of like being put out to pasture.”
New Orleans is a different place for police. It’s a city that openly tackles getting wild in the streets. Officers deal with Mardi Gras, New Years celebrations, Sugar Bowls, Super Bowls, and hurricanes. The city currently suffers from an intense crime wave that has included multiple shootings, stabbings, muggings, and robberies. Many caught on camera. It’s a city, like many others, suffering from a criminal spike, but with few police officers to handle the problem, there isn’t as much cause to believe that it will end soon.
That’s why it’s unsurprising that the Blue Dot owners are looking forward to their out.
“I’m so glad I’m gone,” Laporte said. “I’m thankful everyday that I’m gone. I can focus more on doughnuts and open more doughnut shops. People smile when they go into a doughnut shop, but when you’re police you don’t see too many smiles. That’s what we like, seeing people walking in happy and leaving happy.”
“Nothing really good comes out when a policeman comes to the door. Either something happened or somebody’s got to go to jail or something. Being in a doughnut shop, everybody is smiling, kids are covered in chocolate, it’s a good thing. Nobody is stressed out.”