DOOM20: The Doughnuts of 2014

From the NYPL Digital Archives

The last decade wasn’t all doom and gloom. For example, this early Distinctive Occasion Of My 20s (DOOM20) is a more uplifting tale, though it may make others question my generosity in the future.

College students are infamous for their tight pursestrings, and my tenure at Emory University was no exception. I acknowledge that, with my family helping to foot the bill for tuition, my cell phone plan, and insurance, I had little to worry about financially. For discretionary spending, however, I was on my own, and I tried to keep my budget within the boundary of what I made at my various part-time on-campus jobs. Since those paid anywhere from $7.50-$10/hour, I didn’t have too much to work with.

When I did need to buy things, I enjoyed the thrill of the hunt for a good deal. When I needed to buy required books for the upcoming semester, I’d toggle between eBay, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other potential resellers to find the best price possible (I probably enjoyed buying books more than the average student, given I was buying ten $3 novels as opposed to five $300 textbooks). When traveling off campus was necessary, I often opted for the cheaper MARTA route or a free—though often indirect—shuttle from Emory as opposed to calling a cab or hailing a nascent Uber.

One area in particular I had many opportunities to flex my frugality was grocery shopping. Beginning my Sophomore year, I no longer had unlimited entries into the main dining hall and was often left to my own devices for meal prep. I still had some campus dining dollars to fall back on, but for the first time in my life I was in charge of buying and preparing my own food.

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The Asbury House, as seen through the lens of my Blackberry in 2012

The Asbury House, where I lived in on campus that Sophomore year, was fairly secluded from the rest of the university. It was surrounded by woodlands, and not too far from a ball field at the edge of campus. Early on during the first semester, I and my housemates discovered a path at the far end of the field that acted as a shortcut to a Kroger supermarket. That Kroger was special for many reasons, including the fact that it spread its wares across two floors (this was before I was a regular shopper in New York City, where that’s a more common phenomenon). On a few occasions I took advantage of its 24/7 hours and shopped for anything from Hot Wheels cars to orange juice when I really should have been asleep. For those of us without cars, going on an adventure to Kroger was a great way to spend part of a day.

Near the back of the Kroger was the manager’s specials section, though “section” may be too strong a word. It consisted of two shelves next to the elevator that held a variety of products nearing the end of their shelf lives. The discounts offered were sharp, and it was the highlight of any grocery trip to see what kind of interesting products were on offer that day. One of the most common items for sale were 25-cent loaves of bread, which I’d often buy and stick in the freezer to last for a couple weeks’ worth of lunches. Whether I went alone or with friends, the back of the store was always the first destination.

By spring 2014 I was a Junior, back on campus after a semester abroad in London. After the disappointed that was the moldy manager’s special equivalent on offer at Sainsbury’s, I was excited to return to Georgia and be reunited with my favorite store’s discounts. My new dorm on campus was further away from the “good” Kroger (as opposed to the one an Emory-run shuttle went to on weekends, which was just okay), but I still made time to trek over there.

The “good” Kroger, as seen through the lens of the Google Street View–mobile in 2021

On one fateful Sunday that spring, I went on a walk to Kroger with my fraternity’s president, Mike. Both Mike and I had lived in the Asbury and were intimately familiar with the shortcut to Kroger. Grocery shopping was one of the ways we bonded and relaxed throughout our time at Emory as we worked to keep our fraternity afloat. Our first stop once we made it to Kroger, as was tradition, was the manager’s specials section. On this day in particular, we were surprised to see several boxes filled with dozens of glazed doughnuts. Each box was only $2.00! Well within our limited budgets.

In addition to, and likely as a result of, student’s tight financials, college kids are infamous for doing anything to get free food. It didn’t take long after starting college to learn how well food worked both as an incentive for action, as well as a suitable token of appreciation. Campus groups frequently use this to their advantage, providing pizza and snacks when tabling and at events to boost attendance and retention. Our fraternity wasn’t always able to cater every event thanks to our own cash-strapped bank account, but Mike and I could each spare $2.00 to treat the chapter from our own pockets. Sunday was the day of our fraternity’s chapter meeting (or just “chapter”) when all brothers were required to be under one roof, so it was serendipitous to find so many doughnuts on sale that day. We each bought one box of doughnuts. Chapter was rarely catered, so we knew that something as simple as doughnuts would be a surprise. Before chapter began we removed the price tags from the boxes so no one would know under what conditions we acquired them.

The doughnuts were there to greet brothers as they entered the meeting space. Few could hide their glee as they got to pick a doughnut to eat before chapter began. Many thanked us for our generosity. By the time chapter ended, no doughnuts remained in either box. There were no complaints that evening of stomach pains or hospitalizations due to food poisoning, so Mike and I could live guilt free knowing we provided a little joy to the fraternity without breaking the bank.

After graduating from college and moving to NYC, I was disappointed that most supermarkets in the city don’t have an equivalent to a manager’s special. Over the years, I’ve found a couple grocery stores here and there that have small sections dedicated to clearance, but they’re few and far between, and are certainly not as robust as Kroger’s selection.

I would be more upset about the lack of discounted food in supermarkets if it weren’t for the app Too Good To Go. The app allows restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets, and other purveyors of food to sell whatever is left over at the end of the day that would otherwise be thrown out. As with Kroger’s manager’s special, part of the appeal of TGTG is not knowing exactly what you’re going to get. A pizzeria may give you a few slices of pizza one day, and the next fill a box with garlic knot sliders. I once placed an order with a bagel shop and was rewarded with a dozen sesame seed bagels. I can feel good knowing that I helped rescue food, while at the same time trying both new and old favorites. My taste for a good deal is as strong as it was ten years ago.

Honorable mentions for other important moments of 2014: Playing games at GSN, The last Foursquare check in, Stranded in the Asheville dead zone

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