skip to content
Kiosk Magazine - UCIrvine Read the magazine

Sweet Land of Liberty


Cleo Tobbi


IT'S 50 DEGREES on an early February night in southern California and it might as well be 10 below. A line of 20 people shiver and sway outside in anticipation of getting to the front of a walk-up window. There is no place for the eager patrons to wait inside the small, chocolate- brown and cream-colored building but they hold their positions in the cold. Getting out of line would be foolish. A forfeited place in line is a forfeited chance at satisfaction, nostalgia, and comfort.
The line is a colorful ribbon of characters wrapped around the building. Coach purses and done-up highlighted hair wait next to plain ponytails, sweats, and tattered running shoes. A Chinese couple discusses their plan of action in their native tongue. There are no smiles exchanged as the two contemplate their final decision. This is serious business. The process when making it to one of the two open windows is made easier if the customer is ready when he gets there. On this night, the line has forced a third window open in hopes of easing traffic.

The line grows and more people join to purchase a piece of American comfort. The only topic of conversation revolves around what lies behind the glass window. Murmurs of “what kind?” “how much?” and “how many?” snake throughout the shivering crowd. They all choose to bear the unnatural S oC al cold because they crave a glaze-covered, fat-infused, sprinkle-coated ring of fried dough from The Donut Man.


It’s Kevin Salvini’s first visit to the famous 24-hour doughnut shop he’s heard so much about. He thought 1:30 am would be the perfect time to leave his college studies and travel 10 miles from Cal Poly Pomona for a late-night snack. He arrives just in time for fully stocked trays and no line. Peering inside the fish tank-like shop, Salvini studies the plethora of gaudy treats before choosing the best doughnut for his first taste. In front of the teenage employee taking orders, the left-hand window encases rows of shiny, flak y, chocolate- and maple-glaze, raspberry and lemon jelly, Bavarian crème and bear claw doughnuts standing by for the late-night crowd. In the opposite case, the smaller chocolate and yellow cake doughnuts are lined up by topping: vanilla or chocolate icing, rainbow sprinkles, chocolate sprinkles, coconut flakes, crumb, and chopped peanuts. 
After examining the cases, Salvini hunchs his six-foot frame down to one of The Donut Man’s 4-foot-high windows to finally place his order.

“Can I get one of those strawberry-dazzle-amazing things?” Salvini asks, pointing to the display tray of fifteen giant strawberry-filled doughnuts.

Salvini takes his first bite of The Donut Man’s renow ned strawberry doughnut. The raised doughnut, a glazed piece of flak y dough stuffed with fresh, syrupy- red strawberries, is the size of a restaurant burger and must be served in a small cardboard box. Salvini attacks his mound of dough and grease and syrup with a plastic fork. No strawberry is left behind and not a bit of fried goodness goes to waste. He slops up his sticky, messy, sugary dessert in minutes and then licks his fingers to savor every last fleck of glaze and sweetness.

“What do they put in them?” Salvini asks the air, after polishing off the monstrous pastry. “Delicious. How do they come? Godlike. When do they come? All night long.”


Many ask, “What is more American than apple pie?” Well, according to U.S. sales and statistics, courtesy of the American Institute of Baking, doughnuts crush pie. The AIB declared roughly 405.8 million fresh and packaged doughnut units sold in 2009. The same site recorded fresh and frozen pie unit sales at just 157.4 million in 2010.

Pie requires skill, time, and G randma’s secret recipe. Doughnuts start out pretty simple by contrast– just dough and frying oil. With a dollar or less, all the key ingredients are present in a doughnut: sugar, fat, and carbs. They can come round, square, twisted, jelly-filled, fruit-stuffed, and sugarcoated. The doughnut, either buttery and flak y and drenched in glaze or rich and thick and iced with frosting and sprinkles has no competitor when Americans search for breakfast, dessert, or a late- night snack. And at The Donut Man, there is no comparison. They take the simplest snack and turn it into a delicacy that has Americans traveling far and wide.

The Donut Man, owned by Jim and Miyoko Nakano, has been feeding the American doughnut addiction for the greater Los Angeles area 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week for 40 years. Nestled between two other independent establishments, the tiny shop is located on historic Route 66 in the suburb of Glendora. The quintessential American town, Glendora is quiet, clean, and virtually crime-free. Of course, the ideal American town must provide the ideal American food. What is more ideal than the pastry that began in the trenches in World War I and became Americanized when commuters needed to eat on the go? They are easy to order, cheap to buy, and quick to gobble up. There is a common vernacular that goes along with ordering doughnuts. Mention words like, “glaze,” “bear claw,” or “maple bar,” to any American and the words will not only be understood but will also promote a rumbling stomach. And as simple as a doughnut may appear to be, there is a delicate process involved. At The Donut Man, this traditional, American snack is available year round and serves soccer moms and stoners alike.

“Doughnuts are all basically made of the same things but it’s how you handle [the dough],” Nakano says. The Donut Man makes sure to handle their doughnuts with precision. Consistency is of the utmost importance and among both the daytime and nighttime bakers are employees who have worked at the shop for over 30 years. Donut Man doughnuts have achieved unchanging perfection.


The drive to The Donut Man isn’t far for daytime baker and Glendora native, Brent Gardner. He arrives every morning at 6 already dressed in his baker’s outfit. The clothes are simple: white pants, white shirt, white gloves, and a yellow “Donut Man” trucker hat. After grabbing his matching white apron from the back of the store, Gardner doesn’t need to take many steps to get to his workstation. He asks Nakano which doughnuts the shop is running low on and goes from there. If the shop needs to make cake doughnuts, his job is easy. Cake doughnuts are the small, dense doughnuts that are typically iced with frosting. At some doughnut shops, the cake doughnut can be described as a “brick.” The Donut Man’s cake doughnuts, moist and decadent, make it feel as though each bite is into your own birthday cake.

For the cake doughnut, Gardner simply scoops batter into a machine that shapes and churns the dough directly into the fryer. After those fry for about 3 minutes, another worker moves them about 2 feet away to the glaze and frosting station for decoration.

The real skill comes in when Gardner is asked to make raised doughnuts. They are called “raised” doughnuts because unlike cake doughnuts, the dough used for these doughnuts contains yeast, which needs time and warmth to rise in a proofer, a metal box that quickens the rate of fermentation of yeast using controlled temperature and humidity levels.

Before starting, Gardner makes sure to coat the slab of oak wood in front of him with a blanket of flour before he begins preparing the dough to fry. He only takes the amount of dough that he needs from the giant tub of already- mixed dough. While most recipes for at-home doughnut frying advise an all-purpose flour for the base, The Donut Man uses potato flour along with egg, yeast, and water in their recipe. Gardner, an employee at The Donut Man since he was 12 years old, handles the dough like a surgeon. He takes a bench scraper and begins hacking at the mass of dough, separating it into four equal mounds. With the 3-foot- long rolling pin, he flattens one of the wads of dough so that it is an inch thick and takes up most of the 3 x 4 table. Gardner looks at the dough; he’s appraising it. He can feel it getting sticky and he knows it needs more flour so it won’t stick. He reaches for the sifter to the right of the table and showers the flattened dough with another coat of flour. When air bubbles form under the dough, he smoothens it out with care as if he were perfecting an already made bed.

Ah, now the doughnut is ready to be shaped. Gardner grabs a silver, cylindrical, palm-sized doughnut cutter from the shelf above his head and plunges it into the dough. Each time he hammers at the dough, Gardner flicks the freshly cut hoops onto his left thumb. After he has five rings around his finger, he lays the newly rounded doughnuts on the metal tray and then continues to drive the cutter into the remaining dough. The tray sits to his left until it is filled with rings of raw dough. Once the tray has about 25 raw rings placed evenly apart, Gardner slides the tray into the proofer behind him.
After about 5-10 minutes in the proofer, the fry cook takes the tray of risen dough circles and sinks them into scalding hot soybean oil. The cook waits until the doughnuts are puffed to perfection and then, with oversized chopsticks in hand, he flips them over to continue frying. There are no timers set or watches checked. The bakers and cooks are simply trained to know when the doughnuts are cooked to The Donut Man standard.

Gardner, the fry cook, and the decorator don’t stop working until all the doughnuts needed for the daytime shift are sitting on the display trays waiting for hungry customers. When baking for the day shift reaches its quota, Gar dner’s shift ends, typically sometime between noon and 2 pm . When nighttime baker Mark Sinclair clocks in at 6 pm , the entire process repeats. 
The Donut Man’s famous fruit doughnuts are made exactly the way a regular raised doughnut is made, minus the thumb tricks because these doughnuts have no holes. These doughnuts need their centers. When they balloon up after being in the fryer for 3 minutes, they rest long enough for the fry cook to place another batch into the scorching oil before they receive a glaze bath. The doughnuts are then slit horizontally and stuffed with syrupy strawberries or peaches.

Nakano defines himself by the integrity of his doughnuts. Throughout his morning shifts, he examines the ready trays with a keen eye and tastes various doughnuts for freshness.
Nakano will tear a small, flak y bite from a blueberry crème puff or a plain glazed doughnut sitting on a side tray waiting to be displayed. Eyes closed and chewing slowly, Nakano tests the pieces of sweet dough against his keen palate. If the doughnut passes, he gives a slight nod to himself and continues to take orders from customers. If the doughnut does not meet his standards, the tray is dumped.

Nakano even lets his customers sample doughnuts they are unsure of purchasing.

“Is that one good?” A middle-aged woman in Jimmy Choo heels and sunglasses asks Nakano as she points to chocolate French-style doughnut.

“Here, have a try,” Nakano says as he hands her a piece of the doughnut in question.

“Oh, that’s amazing,” the newcomer says. “Oh God, that’s good.”


Route 66 runs through the middle of Glendora and the town happily dedicates many stores, restaurants, and signs along the road to the famous name . Since established in 1926, Route 66 has been known by many names including, “The Mother Road,” “The Main Street of America,” and “Will Roger’s Highway.” The road is paved for 2,448 miles from Los Angeles to Chicago and runs through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois. The Mother Road was an essential part of travel during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s when desperate Midwesterners set out for California.

But Glendora, during the hours of 6 am to 5 pm, when the store is actually operating, is a historian’s dream. As the famous road cuts through the town, restaurants and stores make sure you know which street you’re on as you drive by them. A massive sign in the shape of a cowboy boot that looks like it belongs on the Las Vegas Strip greets those who wish to dine at The Golden Spur. Steak and seafood make up the typical American-style gourmet menu but The Golden Spur wasn’t always one for fine dining. - According to Route 66 in California by Glen Duncan, the white- tablecloth restaurant once acted as a ride-up hamburger stand for the equestrian community in the 1930s and 40s.   Also on The Main Street of America, the popular Legends Classic Diner, relishing in its unique location in addition to its typical retro 50s jukebox and Classic Coca-Cola-themed décor, has vintage signs for Route 66 along the interior. Although the history of the town may fascinate a handful of folk, one big reason to visit Glendora is to fix a doughnut craving at any hour of the day.

In pursuit of the pastry, travelers and Glendorans flock to The Donut Man. They pass by Lady’s Donuts on the east or Class One Donut Croissant Café one the west, both also on Route 66; they avoid heading one street over to Foothill Blvd for Big Dan’s Donuts or to Grand Ave for Daily Donuts.

The enormous, fluorescent yellow sign, which dwarfs the shop, catches the eye as it beams bright, welcoming newcomers and regulars who travel to The Donut Man. Also on the sign: a cartoon drawing of a pudgy, Caucasian man with a bow tie, a coffee mug with the name “Jim,” written on it, and of course, a doughnut, in his hand. The “everyday man” in the sign smiles, content with his simple, all-American pastry from The Donut Man. The Donut Man sign acts as more than just a bright jumble of yellow letters; it’s a beacon of cheap, sugary contentment.


It’s around 9:15 pm on a Saturday night in the middle of strawberry doughnut season and the scent of bubbling cooking oil snakes down the line at The Donut Man. As the customers wait in line, they bond over personal anecdotes about the shop and discuss their desires for the various fried snacks visible in the windows.

As an employee dips long, slender doughnuts into a vat of maple glaze, a family of four stares in awe through the shop window.            

“Can I just lie in that?” the mother says as she gawks at the caramel-colored glaze. Customers within earshot laugh and nod.

 “So what are they cooking now?” a gentleman asks his friend as he walks up to the daunting line on the busy Saturday night.

His friend replies, “What aren’t they cooking?”


The small shop sits atop a tiny hill of asphalt and cement with a mocha-colored railing lining the front . .  On one side of the restaurant is an independent insurance agency. To the other side of The Donut Man is a cramped gym.

“Who puts a doughnut shop next to a gym?” one teenage girl asks her friend on their way back to their car.

Her friend laughs and answers, “It’s strategy.” 

It’s difficult to call The Donut Man a “shop.” With no entrance for customers and nothing more than two benches and the curb to sit on outside, the shop is more of a stand.

Despite the tiny stand’s drab appearance and lack of seating, it is well known not only throughout the greater Los Angeles area but also throughout California, and it even has some national following. Somehow, The Donut Man seems to have distilled the essence of “doughnut shop” as a small but crucial bit of the national identity. Celebrities like Elvis Presley and Roy Rogers frequented the shop when it first opened up. The Donut Man has been written about in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, LA Weekly, and was featured by Huell Howser on PBS for his show, “Visiting…With Huell Howser.” The Food Network recently filmed at The Donut Man for an episode of “The Next Food Network Star” which aired in July of 2013.

The store has over 1,100 followers on Twitter, over 5,000 “check-ins” on Four s quare , and over 20,000 “likes” on Facebook. The shop advertis es on their social networking sites with alluring photos of their luscious doughnuts. No photo editing necessary.

After posting on Facebook a picture of their specialty doughnut, the tiger tail The Donut Man received dozens of comments and even some questions.

“Will you guys deliver to Dallas?” a desperate former customer asks. “I’ll pay for the shipping!!”
The reply was simply, “No. We don’t deliver our doughnuts. They won’t be fresh.”

Celebrity and Food Network fame aside, college students make up the majority of clientele for The Donut Man. Some schools even get involved with the well-known doughnut hut. Azusa Pacific University, 2 miles down the road , takes their students to the doughnut stand each year after freshman orientation. Harvey Mudd College in Claremont has an annual 9.6-mile unicycle ride in the spring known as “The Foster’s Run” to The Donut Man. Nakano treats every unicyclist who completes the full ride with a free strawberry doughnut. This tradition has been going on since 1972, when the unicycle troupe began at the private college and when The Donut Man first opened . Back then, the shop was part of the Foster’s Donuts chain. It was Miyoko, Nakano’s wife, who introduced the idea of taking over the doughnut shop. In 1985, the Nakanos bough t the Foster’s location and renamed it. When a little girl noticed Nakano at another restaurant, she pointed and declared him “the doughnut man.” He decided to keep the name and change the spelling.


Like many other origin stories, the story of the creation of the doughnut is shrouded in mystery. The inventors of the pastry and the hollow centers that make them famous are still in debate. However, Dutch settler Captain Hanson Gregory is typically given credit for adding the hole in the center of a doughnut in 1847. One version mentions how Gregory was annoyed with the traditional oliekoek, meaning “oil cake,” which was typically never cooked all the way through. At an attempt to remedy this problem, Gregory punctured the center of the dough with a tin pepper can from his ship, fried them with their centers missing, and then taught his mother to do the same. Another version tells how, while sailing, a thunderstorm struck. Thinking fast, Gregory impaled the oliekoek onto one of the spokes of the wheel to free up his hands. He decided he enjoyed the pastry better that way, and so it remained. Some stories claim Gregory invented the circular centers when he was only 16 years old. Gregory is also credited with inspiring the name change from oliekoek to “doughnut,” because he allegedly asked his mother to add various nuts to his pastry, quite literally making it dough with nuts. However, anthropologist Paul Mullins, author of Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut, found that an English cookbook had a recipe for the oily, artery-clogging, dessert as early as 1803.

There may be some confusion about where the doughnut began but there is no question that America has taken the doughnut in to its bosom of its cuisine. According to Mullins’ book, our relationship with doughnuts began in 1917 during the First World War. After three years of fighting and bloodshed, the troops were due for an American pick-me-up. As part of the “war effort,” The Salvation Army sent eleven young women to the American First Division in Europe in hopes of supporting their fellow Americans. Some aimed to bake pie but with the limited resources on hand, their attempts failed. Flour, sugar, and baking powder made up the majority of supplies available for the girls to work with. Helen Purviance, one of the Salvation Army women , had the idea to prepare a simple dough to fry.

As noted by the New York Times article “Fried First Doughnuts for Soldiers Overseas” from 1949, Purviance said, “I was literally on my knees when those first doughnuts were fried, seven at a time, in a small frying pan. There was also a prayer in my heart that somehow this home touch would do more for those who ate the doughnuts than satisfy a physical hunger.”

The response was just what Purviance hoped for and the first batch didn’t even have time to cool before soldiers snatched them up. Because of the aptly named “Doughnut Girls,” doughnuts became a staple treat in the trenches and even in the army today. They remind the troops of their mothers, wives, and, most importantly, of home.

It wasn’t until post- World War II, however, that the doughnut really boomed. America had changed after the war and so had its diet. The new “commuter culture” had Americans across the nation needing a quick bite on their way to and from work. According to Mullins, foods like hamburgers, fried chicken, and of course, doughnuts were popping up everywhere to meet the drivers’ demand.

While doughnuts remain an American classic, there is no shortage of countries around the world that share in the simple act of frying dough. In Germany, they are known for their Berliner, which has jelly in one pocket of the doughnut and is coated with powered sugar. Japan, similar to Germany’s Berliner, fills their an-doughnut with red bean paste instead. India has the savory vada made from potato, lentil, and dal flours that is served with vegetables and sometimes, plain yogurt. Christians in Lebanon drizzle rose water simple syrup over fried balls of dough called Zalabia in celebration of The Epiphany of the Lord. In Tunisia, orange blossom water, honey, lemon and orange juice are some of the ways this country flavors its oleaginous doughy delights. Israel also has a jelly doughnut called the sufganiyah and is a traditional dessert served on Hanukkah. At The Donut Man, they are known as donuts, an abbreviated spelling and homey moniker for the “every man” snack.

The world eats doughnuts, America devours them, and at The Donut Man all that stands between a man and his doughnut is glass window and cheap price tag.

One afternoon a father orders a box of doughnuts from The Donut Man with his eight-year-old son. He selects a variety of raised doughnuts with chocolate and maple glaze and a few sprinkled cake doughnuts, reaching just under a full dozen. The total for his purchase is $5.80.
“That’s it? $5.80?” the young boy says. “This place is a sweet deal!”

Doughnuts from The Donut Man really are a sweet deal.   For $0.90-$0.95, any patron can get a round, raised or cake doughnut of any flavor. Any crème or jelly-filled doughnut is only $1.50 and specialty doughnuts like tiger tails, a 9-inch twisted, raise doughnut with a chocolate swirl spiraling down the center and coated with regular glaze, is an extra dime at $1.60. The most expensive treats on the menu are the fruit doughnuts. When in season, a patient customer is only $3.25 away from the seasonal snack. The Donut Man offers ten percent discounts to any patron purchasing a dozen or for any veteran.

The only other doughnut shop that contends with The Donut Man in Glendora is the Godfather of doughnuts itself, Krispy Kreme . Founded by Vernon Rudolph, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts has provided America with their famous plain and chocolate- glazed doughnuts since 1937. The popular retro-style doughnut chain has hundreds of stores across both the United States and Canada. Out of the 10 billion doughnuts sold per year in America, Krispy Kreme is responsible for about 1.8 billion of that figure. As tempting their simple traditional doughnuts are, Krispy Kreme is only mentioned with a sour face at The Donut Man. Customers shake their heads and defend The Donut Man as if they had made the product themselves.

“I despise Krispy Kreme,” says Jordan de la Torre, a late-night customer visiting The Donut Man from San Juan Capistrano. “I think they’re overly sweet. Donut Man doughnuts are the only ones worth eating.”

Another out-of-town visitor from South Pasadena said how Krispy Kreme and The Donut Man are the only doughnut shops where she would buy a whole dozen doughnuts. When asked which she preferred she said, “Oh, Donut Man for sure.”

But The Donut Man isn’t perfect; no place is. Every once in a while, the shop receives a crowd different from their morning moms and coworkers buying box upon box for their offices. Drugs are never far from any city and being open the hours that they are, The Donut Man is the only place for people under the influence of drugs or alcohol to grab a late night snack or simply to loiter. And with The Donut Man acting as the only 24-hour joint in town, all walks of life have walked up to the tiny window. A man with scabbed arms and a leathered face enjoys the shop’s cheap coffee. A woman with greased hair wearing torn pajama pants, a faded black sweatshirt, and flip flops grabs a dozen for the kids back home. A vagabond with “meth-teeth” and fake gold-rimmed sunglasses picks a styrofoam cup out of the trash and asks for a free refill of coffee.

It’s expected of a 24-hour establishment to see an array of characters and after 40 years of never needing to, Nakano installed new secutiry cameras around the shop to ward off taggers.


What bring customers back to The Donut Man are not only their “God-like” doughnuts but also the service provided by Nakano and his staff. Tom Reinberger, a regular at the shop for decades, appreciates Nakano’s effort to greet him by name every time he goes to buy a coffee.

Adding to his praise of Nakano and his shop, Reinberger says, “And [Nakano] makes a heck of a doughnut too.”

Now in his mid-seventies, Nakano still dons an apron from time to time and takes orders for customers. One morning, a portly, white-haired man sits on one of the dark brown benches outside The Donut Man. He forks through a colossal strawberry doughnut, taking his time to revel in the blend of syrupy berries and soft dough. He wipes away leftover specks of sugar from the corners of his mouth, stands up, and goes back to the windows at the face of the shop.

“May I help you?” Nakano asks.
“Oh,” the man says, “I’m thinking about having another doughnut. Is that a maple cake doughnut?”

“Yup,” Nakano replies. “Ninety cents.”

Smiling, the man makes his second purchase. Without pee king into the bag too soon, the man takes it and walks back to his gra y sedan and squeezes into the driver’s seat. As he pulls out of The Donut Man’s parking lot, the he grabs his new doughnut out of the paper bag, takes a bite of well-crafted American comfort, and drives away from the little shop with the ever-growing line of customers.