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.

DUNKIN’ HAD FINALLY LEFT years of acrimony behind and was eager to capitalize on its renewed success. The chain began airing national TV ads for the first time in the late 1970s. Sales increased by 15 percent in a single year. In 1982 viewers of Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson were introduced to Fred the Baker, a put-upon (yet outrageously dedicated) doughnut maker played by an actor named Michael Vale.

Ron Berger, executive chairman, Euro RSCG Advertising: We had another actor in mind for Fred the Baker. But when Michael Vale said “It’s time to make the doughnuts” in the casting session, we just couldn’t stop laughing. We went with him, which turned out to be a home run. He was just brilliant.

Nancy Vale, widow of Michael Vale: My husband gave him the name Fred because it just seemed to connote a nice, lovable guy. He was Fred, the guy next door.

Rosenberg: I was flying back to Boston just after the commercial started airing. People were kibitzing, and one person said, “I’ve got to go back. It’s time to make the doughnuts.”

Vale: It became like a mantra for people. I would tell my kids, “That’s why you’ve got to get up and go to school: Fred gets up and makes the doughnuts.”

Dan Andelman, host, The Phantom Gourmet: I have a picture of me on Halloween when I was 11 years old dressed up as Fred the Baker. I had a mustache and flour all over my apron.

Jack Shafer, former CEO, Dunkin’: I remember one time coming out of Rockefeller Plaza with Michael and there was Barbara Walters. People walked right past her to say hello to Fred.

Binder: We did commercials with Senator Bob Dole, Mary Lou Retton, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Larry Bird.

Vale: Michael played basketball with Larry Bird; he adored that. He was like a frustrated athlete himself. He never let me forget that he was a high school basketball champ, and he was all of 5-foot-8.

Larry Bird, former Boston Celtic: Fred was short, but he knew how to dribble and shoot a basketball. It was an honor to shoot a commercial with a Boston icon.

Binder: There was an autograph signing at a Special Olympics event, and Drew Bledsoe was at one table and Fred the Baker was next to him. Bledsoe’s line went back 50 or 100 people. Fred’s line went back for half a mile.

  • 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