Portland’s food scene—where “local” is good and “handcrafted” is next to godliness—seems far removed from a Cinnabon at the mall. 

But almost two years ago Kristen Hartman, the Georgia-based cinnamon roll chain’s vice president for marketing, called Steve Foltz, owner of three Portland-metro Cinnabons. A franchisee since 1989, Foltz talks to headquarters frequently. This time, he had some ideas. “Two things were on my mind,” Foltz recalls. “First, craft beer: I’ve tried beer with coffee, pepper, vanilla, watermelon, raspberry, marionberry, five varieties of hops, smoke.... Second, Voodoo Doughnuts: there’s nothing they wouldn’t put on a doughnut, and people seem to love it all.”

Hartman saw potential. “Portland is interesting because people like to try new things,” she says. The gooey results of Foltz’s brainstorm rolled out early this year as Cinnabon tested two new product lines at his Clackamas and Washington Square locations. The MiniBon Roll Collection™ gave patrons “permission to indulge” (in Hartman’s words) with palm-size rolls that started “naked.” Customers chose among three toppings: Brownie Batter, Butterfinger, or Berries & Cream—not quite Voodoo’s famed Fruit Loop or Grape Ape options, but still a nod to Portland’s free-form flavor experiments. 

Whether or not indirect Portlandian inspiration permanently changes the menu at Cinnabon’s 1,000-plus global locations, other brands will undoubtedly also use us as a flavor lab. “The Portland market has a reputation as a cutting-edge place,” says Laura Barton, a trade manager for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “We make a convenient and cost-effective place to test ideas for the whole West Coast, even Asia.” 

As the food industry hunts for new product ideas, our affinity for strange doughnuts could become the one ring to rule them all.