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"That Glowing Red Sign"

Writer's obsession proves Krispy Kreme doughnuts really are made from crack?

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When I was about 12, my mother took me to Krispy Kreme as a treat following a visit to the doctor. Krispy Kreme stores were rare in those days -- this one, on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta, was nearly an hour from our house. After a day of being poked and prodded, stepping into that sweet-smelling sanctuary was a reward greater than any that the Big Doughnut Maker In the Sky could proffer.

We witnessed a sight that would have grossed us out at any other restaurant. Just as now, patrons could watch as the doughnuts were being made behind the counter. There, between plucking fresh hot glazed ones off a conveyor belt, was an employee using that same hand to pick something that more self-conscious folk might better handle with a Kleenex. But did we gag? Did we leave? Nope. We grabbed our treats and giggled our way out the door.

It might have been gag-worthy, but it wasn't nearly gag-worthy enough to stifle our gluttonous impulses. As many a dieter has learned, there's not much that can come between a sugar-crazed addict and her Krispy Kremes. Not for long, anyway.

I ventured to Krispy Kreme on Woodlawn Road recently to watch the process. (From the customer side of the counter, unfortunately. After I let slip to a Krispy Kreme flack that I was writing an innocuous article on gluttony, it became evident the nutrition-phobic company would no sooner let me behind the counter than Donald Rumsfeld would help reporters access secret prisons in eastern Europe.) The identical doughnuts floated on a creek of vegetable oil and flipped from one side to the other before passing through a goopy waterfall of glaze. It's enough to turn you diabetic just looking at it. The glaze that doesn't stick seeps down into a vat of swirly sugar that looked as appetizing as lard soup.

But what continued down the conveyor belt? Heaven.

The North Carolina-born confection has come a long way since its 1937 beginnings. Nearly mythologized among aficionados as a Southern delicacy that the cake-doughnut people (read: Yankees) just wouldn't understand, its stores have sprung up across the country, even overseas. News reports of traffic jams and long lines caused by a new Krispy Kreme opening weren't too uncommon, even though the company reportedly never pays a dime for advertising.

But then the low-carb craze hit, and some company missteps sent tongues a-clucking and stores closing. Financial woes or not, Krispy Kreme is still a sweet signature of gluttonous indulgence. It's food that almost belies the dieters' maxim that nothing tastes as good as being thin feels. High calories be damned, there's just something about that glowing red sign.

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