Tattoo Ink in Voodoo Doughnuts!!
By Suzi Conklin
While doughnuts are flying out the front door, behind the counter at Voodoo Doughnuts, where all of the magic happens, it’s relatively calm as dough is being kneaded, bear- shaped doughnuts fried and flipped with large chop sticks, icing piped free style on large unicorn-shaped doughnuts, and workers shouting “We’re out of those!”
Everyone I asked said they loved their job. How could they not? They get Groundhog Day off and are treated to a mad company-wide party. One year, there was a scavenger party. At another celebration, they drank their way through downtown Portland to a hotel the other side of the freeway. “People work very hard here, there’s no time to clean. You work, then you clean.” Voodoo Doughnuts employs 133 workers, 60 work at the downtown location. The back of the shop is in fact remarkably clean.
Past unmarked boxes of special fry fat, past pink colored walls, into a pink den of an office, I find tattoo maven Sara Heise, Voodoo’s Executive Wrangler and Wedding Coordinator.
Sara is part of the realistic tattoo tribe. Her images are so knock-out illustrated they practically move. An octopus, her first tattoo inked five years ago by Clay at Odd Ball Studios in Portland, melts over two feet of her thigh. (Clay has since moved into his own shop near Mt. Tabor in Portland) The image looks like it will awaken any second, wrap a tendril around your throat and drool “respect me.” Sara draws her inspirations for tattoos from the “Scary Stories” book series she read as a child. Bones and flowers on her back, with birds, merge fright with beauty, like life and death. Sara likes the thrill of frightening images, which is why she chose a reptile for her most detailed tattoo.
A rattlesnake slithers up her side with scales in chilling detail. As Sara says, “Snakes are gorgeous. They have a lot of detail and scales.” Ren at Albatross Tattoo in Portland inked the snake. He won Portland’s Smallest Tattoo Award for rendering an airplane complete with passengers the size of a quarter. For Sara, the thrill lies in the contrast between scary and beautiful. There’s also fun. She and her husband had bear paws tattooed on the tops of their feet. “We’re bears.” she says, smiling. Although Sara’s inspiration for tattoos comes from her childhood, she’s grateful her parents talked her out of them at age sixteen. “Otherwise,” she says, “I’d be wearing some images I’d rather not have. My style has changed a lot since then.”
Voodoo Doughnuts is Sara’s perfect fit. She’s found a rare job where tattoos are part of the norm, which means she can be completely herself, and where all things wacky are not only accepted, they’re encouraged. She’s proud of the fact that so many employees are tattooed, because Voodoo is providing a crazy, creative environment for them in which to work. Out on the work floor, I ran into Benny Harris who showed me a tattoo he got as a teenager, as well as a scull and streaks inked by Matthew Mattison at Tiger Lily. He loves working at Voodoo. When asked what he thinks is the link between tattoos and Voodoo Doughnuts he says, “Voodoo Doughnuts attracts the pariah, the subversive types.”
The bakery is a studio of edible art on the product and on the skins of those making the art. It turns out, there are a couple of licensed tattoo artists on staff, so tattoos are cropping up everywhere. Store manager Wayne Boucher holds up his hand. There’s a tiny dot tattooed on his lower palm. That’s where he’s from in Michigan, and, of course, his hand is Michigan. Others at Voodoo, also from Michigan, have dots on their hands to indicate their hometowns. There’s more culture here than just yeast.
Fans of Voodoo Doughnuts pay homage with custom tattoos like Bacon Maple Bars and even the Voodoo logo. And since so many counter-culture officiates relish the dark hours, the over-the-top doughnuts are sold 24 hours a day to satisfy late night cravings for the bizarre, adding that little extra to the already surreal ventures in the night.