Back in March, doughnut chain Krispy Kreme announced that it would give one free glazed ring of dough a day to anyone who got the COVID vaccine for the rest of 2021. As in, you could go back and get one every single day for the rest of the year. The news inspired its own little outrage cycle for a few days there. Now months have passed, a flurry of potentially more exciting freebies has been announced, and it seemed like a good time to ask: No one has actually been going to the trouble of getting a free doughnut every day, right? Wrong. Joe Caramagna, a 45-year-old comics writer in northern New Jersey, has gotten 31 free Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts since getting vaccinated and has no plans of stopping anytime soon. Between bites, he agreed to speak to Slate about it. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Heather Schwedel: How did this promotion with the free Krispy Kreme doughnuts first cross your radar?
Joe Caramagna: I heard about it the way everyone did, through social media, through their Twitter account, which I follow very, very intently. I got very excited, of course, and a bunch of tweets were sent my way, given my reputation.
Yes, I’ve gathered that you’re known for being something of a doughnut connoisseur.
It’s always been my thing. Every time I travel to different cities for comic-cons or whatever, I always Google doughnut shops near me and I try the local doughnut place. This one shop, Broad Street Dough Co. in Oakhurst, New Jersey, they actually let me create my own doughnut special called the Joenut.
Are there a lot of Krispy Kremes in your area?
I didn’t even have one within reasonable driving distance until about a year ago. What’s funny is that they built this new Krispy Kreme that I’ve been going to. It just opened up the week before my second Pfizer shot, and it’s within walking distance. It’s a mile away. It’s kismet, right?
When you heard about this, did you know right away that you wanted to try to get a free doughnut every single day?
Well, when I first heard about it, the Krispy Kreme that’s a mile away hadn’t opened yet, and all that was there was a sign saying, “Coming soon, Krispy Kreme.” So I didn’t think it would be possible for me to go every day. I’ve been taking long walks every morning for the past couple of years to kind of clear my head for work. When they opened the new Krispy Kreme store, it’s right near my walking route, so that became an added motivator to keep my routine going so I’m productive with my job and get more stories written. So it just became, “Yeah, of course I’m going to go and do this every day.” Why wouldn’t I? It would be weird not to.
How did it go the first time you went in for your free doughnut?
I just walked in and I just asked for “one original glazed doughnut, please,” and then proudly held up my little card. They see it, and they say, “Oh, vaccination card, OK.” And then you see the little screen shows zero dollars and zero cents and they ask you to pick up your free doughnut across the counter on your way out the door.
And then you just kept going back.
The first time I went to get the doughnut, they actually gave me more than one, so I skipped the next day. I didn’t want to seem greedy. And I missed a day on the weekend here or there. So far, I’ve gotten 31 free doughnuts, and I’m on my 40th day of being vaccinated.
So it hasn’t been quite every single day, but I’m trying to get as many as I possibly can before the end of the year when the promotion runs out. My goal is to get at least 125. I only came up with that number because when I happened to look at the calendar, I saw there were 250 days left in the year, and I figured that a doughnut every other day would be attainable and somewhat reasonable. Not reasonable to the normal person, but reasonable to me.
Are you sure you don’t want to up your goal? Maybe go for 200?
I have a couple of trips coming up, so I can’t really guarantee that I’ll get 200. I spend a lot of time at the Jersey Shore in the summer, and they don’t have any Krispy Kremes near there, I don’t think. I remember checking on a map, and I think the nearest one is about an hour from where I usually am, so that’s going to make it difficult.
I wonder if Krispy Kreme is going to regret opening that new store near you.
I thought that same thing, but you know how when you go into Krispy Kreme and you can watch the doughnuts being made? They’re on this conveyor belt and they go through this glaze waterfall to get glazed. I’ve seen people back there finding weird shaped doughnuts or doughnuts that didn’t flip and get glaze on both sides and they take them off the conveyor belt. I think they’re throwing them out, so I don’t feel too bad anymore.
At this point, do the employees recognize you?
What’s funny is they haven’t said a word to me. They recognize me, surely, because I’m there every day. And sometimes they give me an extra. They’re like, “Oh, I gave you two today.” I say, “Oh, thank you.” But no one asks me, “Hey, what are you doing?” or “Why are you here every day? I gave you two yesterday so you wouldn’t be back today. Why are you back today?”
There was one day where I didn’t have to order. I walked up to the counter and they said, “Will that be all today?” before I even said anything. It made me feel a little bit guilty. That was all today.
Have you observed other customers taking advantage of the free doughnuts?
I’ve seen other people do it. But I haven’t seen the same person twice do it. I’m probably the only one.
I’m curious to see when this piece runs if anyone reaches out to me and they’re like, “Well, that’s nothing. I’m going twice a day to different Krispy Kremes in disguise.”
When I first heard about this promotion, I figured there’s probably people that go to Krispy Kreme every morning on their way to work, even just to get a coffee. I imagine that a lot of those people are just getting their free doughnut every day, unless they have shame and they’re not like me.
Do you ever get anything else?
Most of the time, just the doughnut. Yesterday, I got a coupon in my email, because of course I have the Krispy Kreme app and I get a notification on my Apple Watch every time my local store turns on the Hot Light, which is exciting—
Wait, what’s the Hot Light?
Oh, Krispy Kreme, when the glazed doughnuts are fresh and they’re coming down the conveyor belt and they’re warm, they turn on a light outside that lets you know that the doughnuts are hot. That’s why there’s certain times of day where you see cars lined up at the Krispy Kreme drive-thrus. So when I’m on my way to Krispy Kreme and I get that little ding on my watch, it’s the most exciting thing you can imagine, because then I get my Krispy Kreme warm.
Whoa. But finish your story.
I get promotional emails from Krispy Kreme because I have the app, and the other day they had a special promotion for Cinco de Mayo where you could get a dozen glazed doughnuts for $5, and I got them, even though I get a doughnut every day. Plus the free one. I always get the free one.
Do you eat all these doughnuts? It could get to be a lot of doughnuts.
That’s an understatement, right? It’s a lot of doughnuts. I don’t normally eat the doughnut that I get in the morning for breakfast. I save it for a reward at the end of the day if I feel I had a healthy day and didn’t have any fast food or anything that day. Unless the Hot Light’s on, then you just got to.
I let them accumulate. They pile up. Sometimes I have two or three because I didn’t eat yesterday’s doughnut, so I’ll eat it today. I also have three kids. Sometimes one goes mysteriously missing, and I ask around, “Hey, who ate my doughnut?” And everyone says, “Not me.”
How have people in your life reacted to this doughnut quest?
My sisters like to make fun of me, either publicly on Facebook or in text. My mom thinks I’m ridiculous. And I think it was about the fifth or sixth doughnut that I got from Krispy Kreme where I tossed my little bag of free doughnut onto the kitchen counter and my wife looked at me and said, “OK, so this is what we’re doing now every day?”
Your poor wife. Though I’m sure she benefits from the free doughnuts sometimes.
My wife does CrossFit, so she’s actually in very good shape. She hates that I bring these doughnuts home every day because they tempt her. She’s at the gym every day, unlike me.
Well, you’re walking. That’s good exercise.
I mean, we’ve done the math, and according to my Apple Watch, I burn 96 calories walking each way to Krispy Kreme, and the original glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut has 190 calories, so I’m working on this two-calorie deficit. This is actually good for me.