This week’s column is bringing some levity onto the enlightenment trail. We can tend to get so serious on our quest that we don’t take time to smell the roses, or in this case, the donuts. Being in the moment is where God is — not in the future or the past as we walk the path to greater spiritual understanding. Right now. And sometimes on this path, we come upon something so delightful, so irresistible, so desirable it makes us remember why we are alive. Enter VG Donut & Bakery.
VG is a third-generation family endeavor providing the bread of life — the staple that fell from the heavens (with some modifications) that are strictly love. From humble beginnings in 1969, the lonely stretch of land surrounding what is now the bustling downtown strip of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, VG donuts sprang into life in the wee hours of the morning. The only donut shop from La Jolla to Oceanside, the tiny cafe became the unofficial city hall of that era. Growing to lure the campers across the street at the San Elijo state park, devotees would wake at dawn to follow the smell of fresh baked goods wafting out of the bakery doors. The pursuit would compel the disciples to arrive before a line of fellow enthusiasts on the same quest started to wrap the building. Boxes of the divine halo shaped cakes got delivered to the back gate of the Del Mar racetrack in the early days for the jockeys and warm-up trainers. The world was right with that first bite on those chilly early workout mornings.
Not much has changed in what will be VG’s 50th anniversary. I met with the current owner and son of the original bakery owner, Joe Mettee. He wasn’t much concerned about why I was there to interview him, but I think he thought it amusing enough to slant an article on the bakery as a spiritual encounter. He told me I would have to talk to him while he worked, and sure enough, the hands that have been a part of growing this kitchen turned full-service bakery never stopped moving. Joe has worked here since the days with his dad starting when he was only 14 years old. I watched in awe as he expertly cut the dough, stacked the racks full of the soon to be baked goodness, awaiting the multi-tiered nonstop rotating oven. They are cooking all the time. Twenty-four hours. Multiple shifts. His daughter, Megan, also works there doing social media and bringing in another generation to the family ministry of magical, mystical, master baking.
He answered questions of the staff (many who went to school and grew up with Joe and/or his kids) cooked his wife Becky some eggs (who really runs the place, wink), and tried to keep me occupied in conversation and out of the way of the dozens of bustling workers, while never missing a beat. Order after order came in, as donuts are in somewhat of a revival, it seems. Many bride and groom are opting for donut walls rather than the traditional wedding cake, and I was there to place an order for 200 donuts myself for Seaside’s Celebration Sunday. Joe says they never went out of style. He would know.
I had to ask, “What do you contribute to this continual flow of returning customers?”
He smiled as he continued his prep. “First of all, we are so thankful every day,” he said. “Nothing but grateful. That translates to TLC. Love. We care about what we are doing. We love our community and the people in it. Everyone has access to the same ingredients. We use quality ingredients, yes. But we love what we do in our own special way. We instill this love into all our employees, too. It’s my calling.” Thank God.
I don’t know. I still think there is something more. So, I go out to the long line to ask some of the people who are devoutly and patiently waiting their turn to get to the altar of donuts inside the door being held open by one further up in the line. They don’t mind. Some do this every week; dare I say every day even. Everyone is so polite. There is fun and festivity in the anticipation. The wait. It is a community, a friendly, festive crowd. They have their specific favorite, and nothing is going to stop them. They are on a mission. To. Get. Through. That. Door. I think about when Homer Simpson sold his soul for a donut. I shake my head. Are they really that good?
One gentleman I spoke to said it had been 46 years since he had been there, and as he drove by, he just had to stop and repeat the order that was remembered on that one day when he was hitchhiking up from Mexico. He had the same thing today. And suddenly the miracle occurred as on that day long ago. He could recollect the experience as if it was happening right then just by biting into the delectable delicacy. He had found Nirvana.
Others recounted the days they would make midnight runs up the coast from UCSD to scarf down a freshly baked batch, as the kitchen is a 24-hour operation with around 40 people involved in the production daily. They are reliving their youth. Another couple from Carlsbad has been coming regularly for 36 years and can’t seem to drive by without a quick stop for an insatiable three-decade-long sweet tooth. This is also a generational thing. Iconic and experiential. People have been coming here for generations. Fathers, Mothers, grandparents, children, young, old, drifters, locals; all are seeking the freshness, the fondness, that is only found for them at VGs.
People recount their grandparents bringing them to this very same shop, as they now wait for their own grandchildren to choose what they will have today from the tantalizing display case that in their minds, has dropped here from heaven. To them, these choices are earnest life questions to ponder. Sprinkle or Chocolate? Glazed or Fritter? Fortunately, this is a place where every answer is correct, and for everyone who makes it through that door, those pearly gates only lead to happiness. At least for that moment in time. Does it get more soulful than that? And yes, they really are that good. D’oh.