LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
A loss in midtown Atlanta - the neon red sign that's flashed a very important message to all who pass by - hot now - that sign is off and likely to stay off for a very long time. The historic Krispy Kreme that's been serving glazed and sprinkled and cream-filled doughnuts - and this is making me hungry - since 1965 caught fire last week. No employees or customers, thankfully, were harmed, but the building was greatly damaged. Food writer and critic Jennifer Zyman has written about the loss for Atlanta magazine, and she joins us now.
JENNIFER ZYMAN: Hi, how are you?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm well. Do we know what caused the fire?
ZYMAN: The latest I heard from Atlanta Fire Rescue was there was some sort of thing with wiring. The two employees that escaped saw a fire starting with some wires in the back of the building.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK, so maybe something electrical. Tell me a little bit about the history of this building. Why is it so iconic to Atlanta?
ZYMAN: It's really a matter of place, first and foremost. It sits on a street called Ponce de Leon in Atlanta that is home to a lot of landmarks. We have Majestic Diner, open since 1923. There's Clermont Lounge, where Anthony Bourdain fell in love with Atlanta, courtesy of a beer can-crushing stripper named Blondie. We have Mary Mac's Tea Room since 1945. It's just a place where there's a lot of really quintessentially old Atlanta buildings. And if you know anything about our history, we don't have a lot of old stuff, really. So it just was a piece of the skyline that we all came to know and expect when driving down Ponce de Leon.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What does it mean to you personally?
ZYMAN: Well, I mean, I came to Atlanta in the late '70s. And for me, it just seemed like such an Atlanta-specific thing. My father used to put us into the car, drive us down to Ponce. You know, we'd wait. You walked into the building, and you'd be hit with, like, the smell, almost like a panaderia, where it was, like, sweet and yeasty and fresh. And you know, watching them come off of the conveyor belt was just, like I said in my piece, nirvana for a kid.
ZYMAN: And as an adult, I mean, it was where I - you know, it's - Ponce de Leon is also home to a lot of really amazing nightclubs. And so when I was in my teens and 20s, it would be where we went after clubbing. And for now, I'm a mother. I have a daughter who's 9 years old. And I find myself, especially during the pandemic, leaning on a lot of their, like, fun holiday doughnuts to just infuse a little joy in the monotony of these home school days.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have to ask you, I mean, what is your favorite doughnut from Krispy Kreme?
ZYMAN: I like a plain, glazed doughnut.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is very controversial.
ZYMAN: I'm a purist. I'm a purist. I also like cheese pizza.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wow. All right. All right.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And maybe even vanilla ice cream. Am I...
ZYMAN: No, no. I don't like ice cream - another controversial thing (laughter).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. We're going to have to stop there. But we did reach out to another Atlantan, Charles Bethea of The New Yorker. He has eaten over 1,000 doughnuts, he believes, at the Ponce Krispy Kreme. And this is how he describes it.
CHARLES BETHEA: Well, it's a gathering place that sits on the edge of a city that, you know, still has some divides and certainly had divides back then in terms of rich and poor, white and Black. And you go there, and you feel like you're getting a more full version or vision of Atlanta.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jennifer Zyman, help us put that into context.
ZYMAN: Well, I think every Atlantan, whether you were raised here or not, has a Krispy Kreme memory. I mean, I think the thing that unites everyone about it is that we all have made some sort of memory there at some point in our life. And it's also, as Charles said, a real meeting point. It reminds me of this place called Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco. And no matter where you're from, how much money you have, where you work, you know, everyone loves a hot Krispy Kreme doughnut.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: There is some good news at the end of this. The owner of the franchise - and our listeners might just know his name - that's Shaquille O'Neal - said that they will rebuild and bounce back better than ever. Do you think it can be replaced? I mean, when something like that goes, do you think it's better when it's new?
ZYMAN: You know, I think that it can be rebuilt. If you look at the history of the building, you know, Krispy Kreme's original location was actually down the street. And it moved into that building in 1965 and was redone in 2003 to look old-fashioned. So I think they can basically do the same thing. And it's got such a footprint that maybe they can even do it bigger and better.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's food writer Jennifer Zyman of Atlanta.
Thank you very much.
ZYMAN: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH ATLANTA")
LITTLE FEAT: (Singing) Oh, Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.