Dunkin’ Donuts to Hit So-Cal. What Does this Mean for L.A.’s Doughnut Shops?

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la conservancy donut sign
Image courtesy of Los Angeles Conservancy(The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

A couple weeks ago local preservationists were up in arms over Dunkin’ Donuts’ decision to remove the half-century old iconic doughnut sign that towers over The Original Grind coffee shop in Long Beach. Dunkin’ Donuts eventually was persuaded to keep the sign, despite the chain’s reservation that it is, as the L.A. Times reported, “now more focused on coffee and breakfast than doughnuts and that the old sign could confuse customers.”

It’s curious that the company doesn’t find their name of all things to be confusing if it is truly focused on breakfast and coffee.

But there’s another story here. After I first heard about the controversy surrounding the doughnut sign in Long Beach, what struck me most was that Dunkin’ Donuts was coming to Southern California in the first place. By 2015, Dunkin’ Donuts is planning to open 45 locations in Southern California.

In a region where independent doughnut shops are as expected as sunshine and taco trucks, why would Dunkin’ Donuts decide to expand in the southland, and what will this mean for all of the small independent doughnut shops here?

Image Courtesy of Paul Downey via Flickr

I turned to Evan Kleiman, L.A. native and host of Good Food to find out what possible implications this move has on L.A.’s doughnut scene. She said she wasn’t surprised by Dunkin’ Donuts’ decision because, “we have so many people and more importantly such a wide geographic area that even though we have local shops there is still an opportunity for them to make a significant impact, especially considering the number of transplanted easterners who live here.”

I also spoke with one one such east-coast transplant,  Zach Brooks to hear his perspective. Founder of Midtown Lunch, co-host of the podcast Food is the New Rock and doughnut aficionado, Brooks spent years eating his way through New York and Boston’s food scenes and has some interesting thoughts on Dunkin’ Donuts decision to expand in So-Cal.

Brooks confirmed Dunkin’ Donuts’ assertion that on the east coast breakfast sandwiches and coffee are the chain’s most popular fare, and said that he knows “a lot of people in L.A. who are from Boston. This [expansion] is something every one of those people have been hoping would happen for years.” He said that coffee is the main draw, “it’s like a taste of home. A guilty pleasure.”

When he first moved to L.A., he was, “amazed my the sheer volume of doughnut shops in L.A. It’s like a minefield for a fat guys.” He’s even surprised that so many shops have been able to remain open here “with all the low carb dieting nonsense and such… so I’m really not sure how fragile the doughnut economy is…I’m thinking that the stand out, super popular doughnut shops in L.A. have nothing to worry about.”

Randy's Donuts
Image Courtesy of Omar Omar via Flickr(The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Evan on the other hand is more concerned about what this means for doughnut shops in Los Angeles. “Anytime a huge company spends millions to build out so many shops in such a short period of time it will affect the independents. I remember when Starbucks first opened and nearly every indie coffee shop closed. It’s taken 20 years to rebuild that culture. I’m hoping people will become even more loyal to their fave indie doughnut in response.”

In response to a query about Dunkin’ Donuts’ expansion on Evan Kleiman’s Facebook page, commenters had mixed feelings.

Some also expressed concern over what this meant for small doughnut shops in So-Cal, including Evan Garcia who said “give me a mom-and-pop Cambodian-American donut place any day of the week! It’s a Southern California cultural experience, not some east coast chain.”

Others were very enthusiastic about the news. Erika Penzer Kerekes said, “it’s all about nostalgia. I used to go to work with my dad on Sundays and on the way we would stop at Dunkin’ Donuts. He and I would each get a jelly donut, plus we’d get a dozen to take to the nurses’ station at the hospital where he did rounds. I haven’t found a jelly doughnut since that brings back the same memories.”

While it remains unclear how customers will vote with their feet once the chain arrives, at least we know the doughnut sign is here to stay.

What are Evan and Zach’s favorite places to get doughnuts in L.A.? 

Evan: Since childhood it’s been Bob’s Donuts at the Farmers Mkt at 3rd and Fairfax.  I don’t love a super sweet donut, so if the “mother yeast dough” is too sweet before it’s given it’s sugary bling the whole thing becomes too much a confection for me.  And for years they’ve had the most consistent mother dough.  Also, the donuts aren’t greasy.  But now I’m obsessed with Donut Snob which is a wholesale supplier and Donut “caterer”.  They don’t have a shop.  It’s the perfect donut for my particular taste.

Zach: It’s hard to pick favorites when you love so many of them for so many different reasons. But it’s hard to argue with the old school charm of Randy‘s.