Sweet, fried goodness

Helen’s Donut Nook: old-school comfort on the cheap

MMMM … DONUTS<br> A look at the variety of donuts at Helen’s.

A look at the variety of donuts at Helen’s.

Photo by Desiree Cousineau

Hours: Everyday 5 a.m.-2 p.m.

Helen’s Donut Nook

807 Main St.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 343-4031

Usually, I don’t let myself have one. A donut is special to me. You know, I don’t want to cheapen it, or become a gluttonous louse.

(Hmm, wasn’t gluttony a sin in the old days?) Details, shmeetails.

I bit into a cake donut with chocolate icing at Helen’s Donut Nook. It had been at least six months since my last visit. Not that I was counting. The self-imposed delay of gratification had taken its toll. I was so fired up by my donut that I left satisfied and story-less.

I rolled a cigarette, and smoked half of it. I didn’t want to look confused. Anyway, I walked back into Helen’s. Behind the counter, I found Pat —she’s always there. Pat and her family have owned the business for 40 years. They made their way to Chico via Laos. She wasn’t as interested in talking business as she was in expressing how proud she is of her son. “He writes for the school paper,” Pat said with a big smile. She has been running the show at Helen’s for the past 13 years, and by the looks of things, not much has changed. I have always enjoyed the scene, as well as the donuts at Helen’s. I’m into the pink countertops, panel wood booths, candy machines and the black-and-white TV that’s always on behind the counter. The atmosphere feels and looks like a good ‘70s movie. I can imagine a young Al Pacino, looking like he did in Serpico, walking in, ordering a cup of Joe, and sitting at a window booth to brood.

Marty Senter noshes at the Nook.

Photo By Desiree Cousineau

I ordered another cake donut with chocolate icing (65 cents), as well as a cup of coffee (90 cents), which has a working-man’s flavor. (Where else can you get coffee in the sub-dollar range?) My second donut went down as fast as the first. It was fresh and soft—so soft it stuck to the roof of my mouth with each bite. The donuts have an artistic quality to them; smooth and sorted out with intention—not crammed in a tray. There is nothing cheap about them.

Donut shops generally make their money through bulk orders, and Pat said that they get a lot of big orders, “especially from the college, and churches.” And I thought, “Yeah, the few times I’ve been to church, they served donuts in the back, where they played Bingo.” And I just know those ravenous college students need something to suck up all that residual alcohol.

Like I said, the smaller cake donuts cost 65 cents each. The longer donuts: buttermilk bars and twists bump up 10 cents to 75 each. The jelly-filled go at an even buck. The fritters and cinnamon rolls weigh in at a $1.25. And they have croissants, too, for a $1.50. Beverages include coffee, tea, milk and juice.

Located on Main Street, Helen’s Donut Nook (not to be confused with the Donut Nook on East Avenue) doesn’t put on any airs. You get more than just the donut you pay for; you get an atmosphere that the chain shops can’t touch.