Saturday, August 22, 2009

Psycho Donuts plans theme change to music

From the San Jose Mercury News:

Psycho Donuts owner Jordan Zweigoron (pictured left) announced he'd be making some changes to the shop after taking sole ownership at the end of July, but gave few details about exactly what he would do and when he would do it. But last week, Psycho Donuts' transition began with a revamped Web site that, among other things, includes links to several mental health advocacy groups and changes to product names.

The names of two of the more controversial doughnuts, "Bipolar" and "Massive Head Trauma," are now known as "Mood Swing" and "Headbanger," respectively. There's also now a "Jekyll and Hyde" doughnut.

"It was becoming really something of a polarizing issue," Zweigoron said of the controversy that began when the shop opened in March. "We had to do some soul searching, and it came down to two things: We had no intention of offending anyone, but we also didn't see ourselves as a mascot for free speech. Some supporters wanted us to adopt that model, but what we really decided was we wanted to be the most unusual doughnut shop on the planet.

"A lot of [the changes] were things that I planned to do all along," Zweigoron added. "It wasn't about giving into demands, but more about in order to be the most unusual doughnut shop in the land, you have to keep innovating, and that's my intention."

An avid music fan and musician, Zweigoron said he had always had in mind moving toward a more musical theme. He turned the padded cell into a "music studio," which invites patrons to rock out with a guitar instead of getting tied up with a straitjacket. Music is perhaps also the inspiration behind two other new doughnuts, "Glazed and Confused" and "Mellow Submarine."

But not everything has changed for the shop on the corner of South Winchester Boulevard and Campbell Avenue. The "Psycho" and "Cereal Killer" doughnuts remain on the menu, but could be part of a next round of changes.

Zweigoron's initial efforts have seemingly engendered the goodwill needed to bridge the gap with the mental health community.

"I can't help but commend Jordan for taking those steps; those were major steps," said Brian Miller, executive director of the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Miller and the Community Alliance United to Seek Equality, a group formed directly in response to Psycho Donuts' old ways, met with Zweigoron this week for the first time in a face-to-face discussion, away from the television cameras and newspapers and circles of protesters and counter-protesters. The initial changes weren't a cooperative effort, but both sides agree that will be the strategy moving forward.

"For the initial steps that he's taken, it's definitely moved in the right direction," said Oscar Wright, CEO of United Advocates for Children and Families, who took on former Psycho Donuts co-owner Kipp Berdiansky in a televised debate last month. "It's not easy turning a business around; these things take time. The most important thing is to stay in communication with C.A.U.S.E. and others cheering him on."

As for C.A.U.S.E., it's not the end for the group. Miller said the various organizations that represent the coalition have the same vested interests, and this controversy may be the beginning of many cooperative efforts.

"Psycho Donuts was great in terms of getting the issue out in the forefront, but there are other things we need to deal with. This isn't the only thing we're working on," Miller said.

Miller hopes to find a common connection with Zweigoron, such as their shared passion for music, to come up with creative ideas that serve both their interests. Both sides agree that an unconventional doughnut shop is a pretty good idea.

"My goal is to keep surprising people, and hopefully those surprises aren't going to include 100 people protesting in front of the store," Zweigoron says with a laugh. "But certain surprises will keep people wondering what we're going to do next."