Name: Jordan Zweigoron
Age: 47
Occupation: Chief Psycho at Psycho Donuts

Since opening its first location on Winchester in February 2009, Jordan Zweigoron has made Psycho Donuts a Bay Area icon. After growing up in Chicago and attended Illinois State University, Zweigoron moved to the Bay Area more than 20 years ago for a marketing job at a small tech company.

Describing themselves as “the world’s first and only asylum for wayward donuts,” Psycho Donuts offers an array of crazy donuts including Cereal Killer topped with Captain Crunch, Kooky Monster topped with crushed Oreos, The Psycho Passionata filled with organic white chocolate and passion fruit, and The Dead Elvis filled with custard and topped with bananas, bacon, peanut butter and jelly. The menu also includes vegan donuts that have “a new personality disorder each week” and a list of psycho coffees, beers and psmoothies.

As San Jose’s real-life Willy Wonka,  Zweigoron works with a team of eight that makes all of Psycho Donuts’ original creations out of one small kitchen at the Winchester location. The second Psycho Donuts on 2nd and San Carlos opened September 2010 and has become an insanely popular downtown destination and a loyal participant in San Jose’s South First Friday Artwalk.

Zweigoron has been featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, Maxim, American Way, Bon Appetit, Food Network Magazine, USA Today, as well as The Travel Channel, The Today Show, and Fox Business News. He’s even been seen tweeting back and forth with the frontman of Neon Trees about creating a Neon Trees donut next time they stop in San Jose.

How long have you lived and worked in San Jose?
I have lived in the San Jose area since 1990 and I’ve worked in this area that whole time as well.

What brought you to San Jose?
When I graduated from college, a couple of my best friends moved here right away. I stayed in Illinois a couple years, but I would come out here during the winter and was amazed by the beauty and the weather and the opportunities out here. I was really interested in in computers and technology and so after a couple visits, my friends convinced me to make the move out here. I sent out tons of resumes and got a job at a tech company and moved in 1990.

What do you like most about San Jose?
I like the diversity and the fact that people come from all over the world to be here. You find the brightest and sharpest people in the country in this area. I like the entrepreneurial nature. Everyone is scheming and working on an idea, whether it’s technology or something else. But people come here with the vision to become something, and I really like that.

What sparked the opening of the second location?

We knew from the start that we wanted to expand, and we still have expansion plans far beyond the two stores we have today. But what happened with this location is the wife of the owner of Comedy Sportz came into our store in Campbell and discovered us. She said she loved this place, the feel, the vibe, and it reminded her of the audiences at Comedy Sportz. So I met with Jeff Kramer, the owner of Comedy Sportz and came here to this theater. At the time, what’s now Psycho Donuts was a little sandwich shop that was about to close. I got to talking with Jeff he said the theater was looking for someone to come over and take the space. We said Psycho Donuts would be a really interesting place right in the heart of downtown, and we turned what used to be a sandwich shop and movie concessions into Psycho Donuts and movie concessions.

What is your favorite Psycho Donut?
I hesitate because it keeps changing. Right now I really like one named after the Monte Cristo. For Easter we called it the Monte Christ-Doh. It’s a donut that has ham and cheese on the inside, it’s a really tasty donut. It’s not quite as sweet as some of our other donuts; it’s a little more savory. I like it because people don’t expect to find ham and cheese in a donut. It’s in line with what Psycho Donuts is trying to do—change the way people think about donuts.

Where are some of your favorite places in San Jose?
There’s a lot of restaurants I enjoy, like Thea in Santana Row. I like the energy of Santana Row. Right across the street from us is the Tech Shop; it’s a really great place to be. It’s a place where you can just have an idea and work on it over there. We’ve built some custom donut cutters there and printed some big posters. There’s a lot of projects we’re considering over there. Also, I feel like how downtown San Jose is really becoming a better place to be over time.

How do you like to spend your free time when you aren’t at the shop?
Well, I’m a father. I’ve got two daughters, so I’m oftentimes a chauffeur. I’m driving my kids around everywhere. They’re both teenagers, so it’s trying to keep up with everything they’re doing. I like to run and play racquetball. I’m also a musician. I play piano and I enjoy working on music.

How do your daughters feel about Psycho Donuts?
They love Psycho Donuts. At first, it was an interesting novelty thing and now it’s like sometimes they’re afraid to tell people when they’re asked, “What does your dad do for a living?” Either other kids won’t believe them and think they’re making it up, or peoples’ reactions are so overwhelming to them so they don’t want to say anything. They’re almost a little reserved about it because they’re afraid of the huge reaction they’re getting from people now.{pagebreak}

What was the biggest challenge in opening your own business?
I guess the biggest challenge was the controversy that happened after we opened. We were trying to open a business, but then the mental health community came down on us. What they didn’t understand was there was a lot of irony and satire in the theme of Psycho Donuts. We were never out to offend anyone, we were trying to start a unique business. But these groups came in and demanded that we essentially change everything about Psycho Donuts that made it unique. The name, products, everything about it. And the distraction of that became overwhelming.

We had protestors in front of our store. The last one started out with a march through the city of Campbell that ended in front of my store, and at that point the news went from being local to international. We were a part of the top ten search terms in Google one week, up there with Paula Abdul doing something crazy on American Idol. That was fascinating because as negative as the publicity was, the visibility was amazing.

And so right about that time, my phone range twice at the same time. One call was from Fox Business News and the other was from ABC News. All at once everyone wanted me to be on national TV talking about this. It was overwhelming at the time because we still didn’t know much about running the shop, but almost 100 percent of my time was spent dealing with the media and press attention. There were about 40 days in a row I was on radio stations across the country.

It was an exciting time, but it there were also some negative overtones that had to do with the controversy. I ultimately made the decision that the controversy was a negative thing and I didn’t want that to persist, so I sat down with some of the top people in the mental health organizations and we made a few minor changes that didn’t affect the feeling and spirit of Psycho Donuts but at the same time dealt with their concerns. Ever since then it’s been much better; the controversy died down. Some of the people who used to protest us now come in and buy donuts from me and give me a hug, so there have been a lot of redeeming aspects of taking what was once an issue and turning it into a non-issue. It’s been quite a journey.

If you could change one thing about San Jose, what would it be?

Talking about downtown San Jose, I would make it a more compelling destination for people to come and hang out. I would start by having a lot of free parking for people so that you could encourage people to come downtown. I feel like a lot of decisions have been made in the city that negatively affect what they really want to happen. They’ve always wanted downtown to be a vibrant place for people to come and hang out, but I feel like sometimes the decisions made by the city don’t help to accomplish what they really want.

But I know sometimes it’s out of their control. The fact that they were forced to shut down the RDA was a huge shame and a real loss because the RDA was all about reinvigorating things downtown. Back before [Psycho Donuts] started, they were offering funding to small businesses to make downtown seem more inviting, but then all the funding for that evaporated and I think it’s left downtown in a worse off situation.

Who is the most interesting person you’ve met in San Jose?

Jimmy the monk. He wears this Tibetan robe, he’s got a long disheveled beard, and he used to come in almost every day. He’s a very gentle man and he’s unusual in the way Psycho Donuts is unusual. You see a lot of unusual people in this town and you don’t always know what to make of people, but he’s got a great heart and he’s become a regular fixture at Psycho Donuts. He writes poems for the nurses every time he comes around. He always makes the nurses smile. We all love having Jim the monk here at Psycho Donuts.