What explains Dunkin' Donuts?

Dunkin’ Donuts owns Connecticut, and New England for that matter. But what explains the dominance of Dunks over Starbucks, and even independent coffee shops?

To find the answer, I think you have to look at the origin story of each company. Assuming that people tend to attach themselves to larger narratives, brand loyalties in CT start to make more sense. In short, I think Dunkin’ represents a certain cultural element that New Englanders feel comfortable identifying with.

Recent picture of New Haven, CT: home to 10 Dunks locations.

Starbucks: Cultural Identifiers
Starbucks appeals to a sort of post-hippie capitalist/left coast individualist spirit. After all, it is a Seattle institution, the place that monetized and sanitized fringe art movements, grunge rock, and coffee. The Pacific Northwest was founded by New England Yankees, so the culture carries an inherited sense of Yankee habits and customs, with much emphasis being placed on education, hard work, and using government to create an equitable society.

However, that Yankee culture got filtered through the rugged individualism of the great west, which accounts for today's Pacific NW culture that, yes, values education and government, but is a lot more flashy, casual, and individualistic. Status symbols are OK, and difference/individualism is celebrated.


Dunkin': Cultural Identifiers:

New Englanders tend to think that they’re really not so special, prefer to live modestly,  and frown upon those that make bold statements about their social position or wealth. New England is also a place that is firmly embedded in a working class or middle class philosophy that places emphasis work and utility over luxury and indulgence, as opposed to the west coast culture of individualism. Thus, Dunkin’ Donuts is there to serve as the practical  “fuel” (America runs on Dunkin’) whereas Starbucks is seen as more of a luxury or status symbol, with its elegant names for sizes (grande or venti, anyone?) and European inspired cafe culture. Dunks is also a little cheaper, and it is the great democratizer, which appeals to the cultural essence of New England which values commonalities over eccentricities.


It is indeed hard to see too far on any congested road in Connecticut without finding a treasured Dunkin’, and I guess it is not difficult to see why this Quincy, MA gem has spread its wings but not too far. Dunkin’ embodies working class values by giving the people fuel to go about their duties. In fact, it basically started as a coffee-break-on-the-construction-site type place. Lounging with a latte is seen as something else all together, if not a bit indulgent. That’s why Connecticut goes with Dunks. Based on their marketing efforts, I'm sure Dunks is aware.

As for me. . .I've been to both places. I like Dunks coffee and Starbucks' ginger tea. I'm cool with local spots as well, but on the run, Dunks usually works best. They're everywhere, and after all, they are a New England institution as much as the Kennedy's are (Ted Kennedy Jr is probably going to run for governor in CT). So get out there any enjoy your coffee, New England, and participate in a ritual that binds the social classes together: a cup o' joe.

Old Dunks advertisement

Dunks vs. Bucks

Orange= prefers Dunks. C'mon, Ridgefield!

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