The great Schuylkill donut-smell mystery

Illustration by Bo Brown


Dear Benny,

Whenever I drive past 30th Street Station along the Schuylkill Expressway, an extremely distinct, unmistakable smell of donuts wafts into the car. Do you have any explanation?

— Craving a Cruller

Dear Sweet Tooth,

First off, you’re not alone. We’ve smelled the aroma while driving along that same stretch of highway, only to have it disappear as we exit the underpass just shy of the South Street exit ramp. We theorize it’s sparked a craving in many a driver for a sweet pastry or two.

As for the origin of the sugary smell, many theories exist. Philadelphia Weekly points to the Dunkin’ Donuts inside 30th Street Station. In her “I Wanna Know” column from Aug. 8, 2001, Sara Kelly wrote the smell wafts from the ovens out onto the Schuylkill.

A thread on PhillyBlog netted several other ideas. One poster posited the smell comes from the Tasty Baking facility in Hunting Park, then wafts down Roosevelt Boulevard and out onto the Schuylkill. Others claimed it was a slick marketing trick from Dunkin’ Donuts. Several others who were unfamiliar with the smell went looking for it—and couldn’t find it. “I go to the 30th st [sic] station and post office quite frequently, almost every other day in fact and I never smell it,” posted “Rocky.” “All that I smell is car/bus exhaust and fried food coming from the food trucks there.”

Rocky may be the victim of poor timing, however: In our experience, the smell is strongest late at night, when there are fewer cars zipping along the highway.

Originally published on February 23, 2006