If you’re a fan of restraint, Psycho Donuts probably isn’t for you. Jordan Zweigoron and Web Granger’s eye-popping donut shop dazzles in a Campbell strip mall, makes Portland’s Voodoo Doughnut seem like a childish starter kit. Despite the heavy kitsch, there is psychotic value here.
Zweigoron worked in the tech world for 15 years. He and Granger bought an existing donut shop in the suburban Silicon Valley town of Campbell. “There’s so much competition for new and innovative stuff in San Francisco, but in the South Bay, not so much,” he said during my visit. “Also, it occurred to me this could be really unique in the area, and stand out.”
The Campbell original opened two years ago and only two weeks in, received protests from the mental health community. After a sitdown meeting, the media firestorm blew over and they’re now on good terms. It apparently appeased the mental health professionals that Psycho Donuts changed clinical donut names like the Bipolar to Moodswing, and Split Personality to Jekyll & Hyde. The schtick continues to extend to the open/closed door sign, which instead reads “Open For Insanity” and “Lock Down Mode.”
Initially, the donuts were far less advanced. Zweigoron said, “It used to be really easy, take Cap’n Crunch and throw it on a donut and you’d have a great novelty donut, but we got to the point where it was great for the kids, but with the adults, it was like okay, we’re on to you.” Six months before my visit, he brought in head chef Ron Levi to become more innovative, more “creative and clever.” He’s also led them “down savory paths,” including to a possible foie gras mousse filling. Still, the comparisons to forerunning Voodoo Doughnut is inevitable. When asked about that, Zweigoron said, “We feel like we’ve upped the game a bit, but we have a lot of respect for them.”
Women like Janelle and Andrea work the front of the house, wear provocative nurse outfits, and hand out bubble wrap squares to pop while you wait or reach a decision.
According to Zweigoron, “We try to have a little bit of irony and sarcasm with everything we do.” Given that, each donut appears in the case, fronted by a patient file, diagnosis and treatment.
It was pretty easy to fill a box considering all the wacky options that actually looked good. My first pick was Key Lime Pie ($2), a raised donut with crushed Graham cracker, Key lime juice and a drizzle of vanilla icing. Feng Shui ($1.50), a raised donut with a diagnosis of “Obsessive and controlling clutter results in a manic episode,” sported a somewhat bitter green tea glaze and dark chocolate chips. Marla ($1.50) was sweeter, raised (yet again) filled with maple icing and dressed with butterfinger “dust” and peanut butter drizzle. Rosie Pear’ez ($2.25) was my only cake donut, and it was even “vegan,” but descipte the lack of animal byproducts, it turned out to be the best donut of all, “spiked” with fragrant rosewater and flavored with with pear icing and toasted pistachios. They even had an option that burst with national pride in honor of Independence Day. The Pstars & Pstripes ($2.50) was a raised heart with an American flag or red, white and blue icing, decorated with white chocolate covered crispies. This was the only donut I didn’t get to try. It got lost in the shuffle of my weekend gluttony.
Zweigoron and Granger clearly hold nothing sacred, as their Pstars & Pstripes appeared alongside the Dead Elvis ($3), a morbid nod to Elvis Presley and his favorite flavor combo: peanut butter, banana and bacon. In this case, they topped a custard-filled, raised donut with peanut butter and jelly, banana slices and crispy bacon strips. This donut could have done without the jelly, and if they caramelized the banana slices, it would have been even better, but fun idea.
Psycho Donuts also sells a rack full of kitschy merch, including a Mr. Bacon action figure, the obligatory Psycho Donuts toy, a Pig Popper and “Naked Guys With Balls.” That last inclusion no doubt will get me some strange results.
Psycho Donuts didn’t quite deliver donut Nirvana, but they were certainly above average, there were a lot of talking points, and it was fun to be in the shop. Apparently the Psychos aren’t through. Zweigoron said they’re possibly looking to expand to “crunchier spots” like Santa Cruz or Berkeley. Sequester your sons and hide your daughters.