Dunkin’s Run: A Love Story

Since opening the doors of its original shop 60 years ago, Dunkin’ Donuts has grown into an international juggernaut. Here’s why Bostonians don’t hold that against it.

By Francis Storrs | Boston Magazine |

IN 1946, 30-YEAR-OLD Dorchester resident Bill Rosenberg borrowed $1,000 from his mother and started a company that ran cafeterias in factories and the Quincy shipyard. Rosenberg later experimented with new ways to deliver food to workers, including dreaming up a truck that has become a coffee-break fixture on job sites nationwide.   

Bob Rosenberg, former CEO, Dunkin’ (and Bill Rosenberg’s son): My father had pancake houses and vending machines and a delicatessen. He made a small investment in the Leaning Tower of Pizza. A lot of ideas appealed to him, so he tried lots of different things.

Eddie Binder, former marketing VP, Dunkin’: He designed that canteen truck you see at construction sites, where the aluminum wings open up on each side. That way he could sell both hot and cold food.

Ann Rosenberg, widow of Bill Rosenberg: We call them roach coaches. They didn’t exist before he designed them.

Binder: The two bestselling products on the trucks were coffee and doughnuts. So in 1948 he opened up his first doughnut shop in Quincy. It was called Open Kettle.

Will Kussell, former president, Dunkin’: In a world of 5-cent coffee he sold 10-cent coffee. He felt his coffee was better than anyone else’s.

Jessica Keener, coauthor of Bill Rosenberg’s memoir, Time to Make the Donuts: The coffee wasn’t selling, so Bill said, “Offer it for free. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to pay for it.” They liked it. And they paid for it.

Binder: He grew tired of the name Open Kettle, so he called a meeting of his executives. One of them was an architect, Bernard Healy.

Lamont Healy, Bernard Healy’s son: They were having a brainstorming session, and my father said, “What do you do with a chicken? You pluck it. What do you do with a doughnut? You dunk it.” That’s where the name came from.

Binder: So the store opened in 1950 as Dunkin’ Donuts…. I never asked why it was spelled “donut.”

Healy: My father made the first sign in the cellar of our house — the “D” was about 10 feet high. If he’d spelled “doughnut” correctly, the writing would have been too small. “Dunkin’” isn’t spelled right, either.

Rosenberg: Uncle Harry Winokur was my father’s partner. He and my dad did not get along.

David Slater, Harry Winokur’s son-in-law: Winokur would say, “We’ve got six stores, we’ve got seven, that’s enough.” Bill would say, “I want 70.” After a while that became a problem with them.

Ann Rosenberg: In our barn in New Hampshire, we had a picture of a couple of buzzards. The caption said, “Patience? Hell, I’m going to go out and kill something.” That was kind of Bill, you know?

Bob Rosenberg: They finally broke up in 1955, and we bought Uncle Harry out for $350,000. He used that to start the Mister Donut chain.

Slater: I became CEO of Mister Donut. It was an absolute carbon copy of Dunkin’ Donuts; the doughnut variety was 100 percent the same. But the Red Sox and Yankees don’t compete any harder than our two chains did. You couldn’t even dunk a doughnut at Mister Donut — you dipped them.  

Schwarz: Mister Donut, we sort of put out of business. We ultimately acquired them.  

  • Scott

    We all grew up on the sunday morning runs for fresh donuts, but that certainly is not their biz today. Donuts are made in a factory and just plain horrible. Most folks are just addicted to the caffeine these days to combat the no sleep they’re getting, aren’t they?

  • Robin

    Loved the article and also enjoyed the on-air interview on WRKO. I lived in Boston as a student in the 60′s! DD is the best and I will go no where else to buy my coffee and/or donuts! Thanks for the great article Francis! Long live DD!

  • Mike