My first glimpse came as it paused, making a right turn onto LaSalle Street, an improbable old blue step van with "Doughnut Vault" emblazoned on the side. Robin's egg blue and quaintly rounded — it looked like the milk trucks of my youth.
It is a 1957 International Metro in the service of Chicago's heralded Doughnut Vault, which I wrote about a few months after it opened in 2011. Besides making incredible doughnuts—the gingerbread cake is to die for—the Vault is known for the long lines which persist most days outside the tiny shop at 401 N. Franklin Street from the time they open until they run out of the thousand doughnuts they bake every day, usually by lunchtime.
So not only is the van cool, but it fills an important function. No need to find the shop, immediately north of the Merchandise Mart, and wait in that line for 20 minutes or half an hour for your $3 doughnut. Now the shop would find you.
I couldn't run up to it as it turned, though I thought about it. Then the truck was gone, vanished into the air, like some exotic bird, seen for a moment in repose, then flapping off.
Online, I gleaned that the van was created by Vintage Step Vans, a Columbus Ohio concern, and hit the streets in September. In case you don't want to rely upon serendipity, the van tweets its location @vaultvanChicago.
I didn't check its tweets. I waited. A few weeks went by. I was hiking to the County Building, when I caught sight of it perched outside Block Thirty Seven -- nesting on the sidewalk, as if it weren't incongruous enough. It was there as part of a NOSH event, trying to draw customers to the moribund development. But the truck remained outside, as if to be removed from the taint of the cursed structure.
In the back was a young man wearing a fedora. His name is Derek Repsch, and he said not only are Doughnut Vault customers attracted but the van, but so are its employees.
"It was a big draw for me," he said, selling me a birthday cake doughnut filled with frosting. "Frankly, I thought it was a lot of fun."
They didn't say it had to be such a delightful motorized vehicle. That's just the kind of attention to detail that also makes for great doughnuts. It was natural that they would create a vehicle that stands out from the generic colorful cupcake wagons and waffle vans.
"Throughout the whole company, there's a kind of aesthetic," said Repsch. It shows.