TRANSCRIPT Raised and Glazed

This is a transcript of the Gastropod episode Raised and Glazed: Don’t Doubt the Doughnut, first released on October 10, 2023. It is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.

PHING YAMAMOTO: So we have doughnut holes that are glazed. And then we have the chocolate raised, chocolate coconut raised. Raised crumb, raised sugar, raised glazed. Then we have our old fashioned, and that comes in a maple flavored, a chocolate flavor, a glazed flavor, and plain. Then we’ve also got the honey wheat, cinnamon sugar cake, chocolate cake. And then above that showcase is the tray with the Oreo raised and the raised sprinkles.

NICOLA TWILLEY: This is a lot of doughnuts.

YAMAMOTO: Oh, did I forget the jelly doughnuts? Yes, jelly, raspberry jelly, we do that in raspberry or strawberry.

CYNTHIA GRABER: And this wasn’t even all the doughnuts on offer that morning when Nicky and I visited Colonial Doughnuts in Oakland, California. As Nicky said, they make a lot of doughnuts.

TWILLEY: Oh my god, I feel like a kid in a candy store.

GRABER: You are a kid in a doughnut shop, is what you are.

TWILLEY: This entire episode, we are kids in a doughnut shop. We’re also Gastropod, the podcast that looks at food through the lens of science and history. I’m Nicola Twilley.

GRABER: And I’m Cynthia Graber. And in case you’ve gotten lost dreaming about chocolate glaze, this episode is of course about doughnuts! What are doughnuts, and why doesn’t the dough come with nuts?

TWILLEY: How did the doughnut get its hole? Who first punched that one out? And more importantly, which bright spark figured out how to sell the holes as well as the doughnuts?

GRABER: This episode we answer all those pressing questions, plus we have the story of the rise of Dunkin, and the doughnut king of California who held the Dunkin invasion at bay. Gastropod is part of the Vox Media Podcast Network, in partnership with Eater.


MICHAEL KRONDL: So people have been frying dough basically ever since they figured out that they could take some sort of a bread product and drop it into boiling fat.

TWILLEY: This is Michael Krondl. He wrote a book about doughnuts called The Donut: History, Recipes and Lore from Boston to Berlin.

KRONDL: We have recipes that go back to the Greeks, where they made kind of what you find today called lukumadis. They had different names for them. There are records of various kinds of treats in the Middle East and also in India.

GRABER: And everywhere else too. Everyone had them, but frying dough in oil is pretty expensive, and it creates something that’s pretty rich tasting, and so it’s a treat.

TWILLEY: Also doughnuts are by nature kind of a communal activity.

KRONDL: Because doughnuts aren’t difficult to make, but you can’t make one doughnut, you can’t make two doughnuts, or there’s no point, right? So you make dozens of doughnuts. When you make dozens of doughnuts… you’ve got to get rid of them because they’re only good fresh.

GRABER: And so since they’re expensive and special, and because you need to have a community around to enjoy them – makes sense that doughnuts also became associated with holidays. They’re really popular for with Jews around Chanukah, because we’re supposed to be celebrating the festival of oil, and so we eat fried treats like jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot. But we’re certainly not alone in this, other religions have doughnut festivals too.

KRONDL: So in the Muslim world, there is a tradition of making various kinds of doughnuts for Ramadan, specifically for when the fast ends. And they’re most famous in central Europe and basically all Catholic parts of Europe for Fat Tuesday.

TWILLEY: This is the day before the start of Lent, which is a 40 day countdown to Easter and traditionally Christians had to abstain from animal products for all 40 days. So they used it all up—all the butter and lard and pork fat, all used up in one big go the day before.

KRONDL: What do you do with it? Well, you fry stuff in it. And so one of the things that you would do is you would fry doughnuts. And there are these traditions of making doughnuts in Germany, in France, in Italy.

GRABER: But these fried treats weren’t always sweet, because sugar was rare and expensive. Michael told us about what seems to be one of the earliest written recipes for what in Germany was called krapfen.

KRONDL: Those were the very, very early doughnuts. And we don’t actually know how they were made. They just tell you to make a krapfen, the name for doughnuts in those days, krapfen dough, and fill it with X. So they assumed that it would be more or less just an enriched bread dough. And so what you put into it, oh, is spinach, apples and fish and spices. Perhaps some innards and spices.

TWILLEY: I mean, kind of weird but probably good. It’s fried, what’s not to love?

GRABER: In any case, many of these fried treats from all sorts of communities around the world ended up, along with their immigrant owners, in America, the eventual home of the doughnut.

BONNIE MILLER: So most likely the doughnut is kind of a combination of all of these different multi-ethnic roots from different immigrants that came in in the 17th and 18th centuries.

TWILLEY: Bonnie Miller is a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

MILLER: The one that I think gets the most attention for the history of the doughnut is the Dutch. They had something called the oliekoek, which is, oliekoek is translated as oil cakes.

TWILLEY: The Dutch had settled in New York or New Amsterdam as it briefly was in the 1600s. And in their dialect olie was oil and koek was cake, forgive my not great pronunciation. These days, the Dutch call doughnuts oliebollen, or oily balls. Which is super cute.

GRABER: The oliekoek looked like balls back in New Amsterdam, too—they were small round balls of fried dough that often had almonds, dried fruit, and apples in them.

MILLER: And they are kind of most well known for being the, the origins of the doughnut for the American colonies.

TWILLEY: Doughnut is definitely more appealing of a name than oilycake, just from a branding perspective, but I have to imagine this wasn’t focus grouped back in the day. So where did the name doughnut come from?

MILLER: I don’t know if there’s a definitive answer, but there are a couple of theories out there. One is that in the, the 17th and 18th centuries, they sometimes put a nut in the middle. So some believe that that’s where it got that nut part of the name, because obviously it’s, it’s made of soft dough, so the dough plus the nut.

GRABER: That’s one theory, the other one has to do with the size. These balls of dough were often about the size of a walnut in a shell, which is about the size of a ping pong ball, maybe a little bigger.

KRONDL: And there are recipes that describe how to make these, and sometimes they would describe them as, dough nuts. Sometimes they describe them as, pin cushions because they might be cut square.

TWILLEY: Yes indeed, the square doughnut is not a hipster invention. But so who coined this magical word doughnut. What’s the first use in print?

MILLER: A lot of people attribute the name to Washington Irving. He published a book in 1809, the History of New York.

GRABER: You may know him better as the guy who wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

MILLER: In the history of New York, he claims that early New Yorkers, would feast on doughnuts that were made from hog fat.

TWILLEY: These were served at tea parties, which Washington Irving calls “delectable orgies” held by the upper classes aka “such as kept their own cows, and drove their own wagons.” There might be pie, there might be fried pork, but according to Irving, the table was always sure to boast of an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts or oliekoek.

GRABER: This feast sounds like a pretty good time, but it turns out that Washington Irving wasn’t the first to use the word doughnut in print, it had already appeared a couple of years earlier.

MILLER: It was published in an 1803 edition of Susanna Carter’s The Frugal Housewife or Complete Woman Cook, which was a recipe book. It had multiple editions, but the 1803 edition was the first one that actually had a doughnut recipe.

GRABER: Whatever their origin, the fried doughnut things came in all kinds of shapes, they came in squares, they came in round blobs, they came in twists, but it seems like among the most popular were these little balls, and they were kind of like an early cliff bar.

KRONDL: And they seem to be popular. They’re very much homemade. They shoved them into their pockets and kind of like, go on hikes. And if you need a, some quick energy, you pop a few of these into your mouth. There’s a Henry David Thoreau, in one of his books where he fills his pockets with these doughnuts and starts walking through New England.

TWILLEY: Just the ticket to fuel some meditations on landscape and nature and getting away from frivolous things. And that kind of philosophical thinking is all very well but really, the important question is, how did the doughnut get its hole?

GRABER: The story goes that it’s all due to a guy who worked on a boat as a teenager in the mid 1800s, his name was Hansen Gregory. Michael says Hansen told this tale in the early 1900s. According to his story, his job on the ship was to make the doughnuts.

KRONDL: And he thought, well, I can just knock out that center. And voila, he was, as he described himself, “the Columbus of the doughnut.” And so Columbus comes home to his mom in Maine and explains to mom how to make a doughnut. This spreads throughout New England, and the holey doughnut is born. Now, there’s so many problems with this.

TWILLEY: Starting with problem number one from my perspective which is a hole means there’s less doughnut. So why’s that a good thing? Why would you even want to do it?

GRABER: Well it turns out that the original doughnuts were leavened with yeast, but in the 1800s, baking powder was invented. That meant the doughnuts rose much more quickly, which is great—

KRONDL: But here’s the problem. If you drop a little, you know, like a doughnut hole equivalent, right, into the fat. It’ll cook up fine. But if you do anything a little bit bigger, because there’s so much sugar in the dough. The outside will burn before the inside cooks through. And so somebody along the way discovered that, Hey, we got this big thing. The inside isn’t cooking through. What do we do? We knock out the middle.

TWILLEY: So by putting a hole in his doughnuts, Hansen Gregory was really onto something, but the other problem is that he wasn’t the first. Other people had put a hole in a doughnut before young Hansen.

KRONDL: And just exactly when this happens is a little bit unclear. Because there are versions of hole-y doughnuts, for example, in North Africa that go way, way, way back.

GRABER: But in America, recipes for doughnuts with holes in the middle show up a couple of years before Hansen’s claimed seafaring Columbus doughnut discovery. So while maybe he did knock out the doughnut centers while he was on the boat, there’s basically almost a zero percent chance that he actually invented the ring-shaped doughnut.

TWILLEY: Hansen or no, these newfangled baking powder-leavened cakey rings caught on, for one because they’re super quick to make.

GRABER: And weirdly they seem to have been particularly popular around New England, and also New York. Other places in America did make them, but often the treats were referred to in cookbooks as New England doughnuts, though frankly nobody really knows why. Maybe we just had the nation’s most intense sweet tooth at the time.

TWILLEY: So by the end of the 1800s, doughnuts have a hole, they’re like the doughnuts we know and love today, but they were still sort of seen as a regional treat—they’re kind of niche.

KRONDL: And then the first World War comes around. And one of the things that happens in the first World War is that of course you’ve got the military, but then you need support staff. And it wasn’t professionalized at that point. So for example, the medical issues were dealt with by the Red Cross. And another group that came in for reasons of… morale, I guess you could say, was the Salvation Army.

GRABER: The people who worked for the Salvation Army in World War I were mostly women, and they were sent over to Europe to help keep up the spirits of the boys from back home.

MILLER: And the, the funny part is that they were called doughboys, though it had nothing to do with the fact that they were consuming doughnuts. It actually had to do with the fact that they were eating dumplings back in the Civil War, that they were called doughboys. But the doughboys were eating lots of doughnuts.

TWILLEY: Because doughnuts, specifically doughnuts made by young ladies, was how the Salvation Army ended up trying to boost morale. Which really needed to be boosted because conditions on the Western Front were horrific

KRONDL: They’re waist deep in mud. They’re being shelled and killed and maimed left, right, and center. So something to remind them of home. And so the first thing that the Salvation Army young women did was they tried to make pies. The problem with a pie is you need apples. You need an oven. And you need the sugar and the dough and all that sort of thing. Of course. And you’re trying to do this with the bombs falling on you and the rain pouring down and you name it. It turned out it was just incredibly difficult to do.

GRABER: One of the women with the Salvation Army named Helen Perviance, she came up with the idea that instead of focusing on pies, they’d branch out into doughnuts.

KRONDL: Beause all you need for doughnuts is a little bit of dough. You need some fat. That’s a bit of sugar. That’s about it. And you can make them quickly when they’re freshly made, even the worst possible doughnuts actually taste pretty good.

TWILLEY: And the doughnuts did the trick in terms of comfort and morale. In fact, soldiers got really attached to and emotional about the Salvation Army doughnuts.

SINGER: Don’t forget the Salvation Army, always remember my doughnut girl! She brought them doughnuts and coffee…

TWILLEY: When a doughnut truck got stuck in mud in no-mans land, it was national news back home.

KRONDL: And these are supposed to be the doughnuts that were be going to be delivered for Easter. And, it was so notable that the New York Times, which in those days came out with several editions, would have in the morning edition: okay, this is what’s going on with the doughnut truck. Evening Edition, this is what’s going on at the doughnut truck. Morning Edition, this is what’s going on with the doughnut truck.

GRABER: The Germans bombed for days. The Americans sent out a mission to try to rescue their doughnut truck, but they couldn’t get there in time. The truck and its delicious contents were blown to bits, to the great dismay of American soldiers and the American public.

TWILLEY: Frankly, it’s a miracle we ended up winning the war after a blow like that. But the point is, doughnuts had become beloved by Americans from all across the country. They were a symbol of all things good and American.

GRABER: At around the same time as doughnuts were claiming their place in American hearts, an immigrant from Bulgaria named Adolf Levitt put his mind to solving the problem of how to get more doughnuts more quickly into American stomachs.

MILLER: So what Adolf Levitt did is he hired an engineer and he created an automated doughnut machine. And this was the inflection point. I mean, he started to hawk this machine to every bakery he could. And as a result, he vastly increased the consumption of doughnuts across New York City originally, and then it started to spread to other cities as well.

KRONDL: So he eventually founds a corporation called the Donut Corporation of America. And very much like today, inkjet printers are more or or less given away, but where they get you is with the ink, right? So that you buy the inkjet printer for a few bucks and then the ink costs you thousands of dollars over the life of the inkjet printer. So he does somewhat the same thing. He makes these gadgets for making doughnuts, but you have to use his mix. And it’s with this mix that he makes huge amounts of money.

TWILLEY: Levitt was not a modest mouse and he called his contraption the Quote Wonderful Almost Human Doughnut Machine. He rented a storefront on Times Square and set up the Wonderful Almost Human Doughnut Machine in the window so he could stop traffic with the spectacle.

GRABER: Levitt was also the one who made our current lives more complicated by trying to change the spelling of the treat. He put out a press release in 1920 that promoted doughnut spelled d-o-n-u-t instead of d-o-u-g-h-n-u-t so that it could be easily spelled and pronounced everywhere in the world. He wanted there to be no obstacle to doughnut’s world dominance.

TWILLEY: And he also did all sorts of fun things to promote doughnuts, including doughnut queen beauty pageants which you have to see the photos to believe—we’re putting those in our supporters newsletter which you can get by supporting the show, gastropod dot com slash support.

GRABER: And Levitt was savvy enough to provide his shmancy doughnut-making machines to the Red Cross during World War II to make sure the boys always had their doughnuts. Of course he didn’t provide the mix for free, he made some bucks off the US Army for that.

TWILLEY: All of this means that by the end of World War II, the doughnut was poised to take over the universe. Starting with Quincy, Massachusetts. The story of Dunkin’, coming up after the break.


BOB ROSENBERG: My name is Bob Rosenberg. For 35 years, I was the CEO of Dunkin’ Donuts, now renamed Dunkin’ Brands.

GRABER: Yes, that is in fact the former head of Dunkin’ Donuts, he’s also the son of the original founder, Bill Rosenberg, and he recently wrote a book called Around the Corner to Around the World, a dozen lessons I learned running Dunkin’ Donuts. If you haven’t heard of Dunkin before, I’m kind of shocked, because even if you don’t live in the US, it’s a thing. Chances are, there’s at least one in your country somewhere.

ROSENBERG: It’s, it’s big. It has grown to something over 13,000 locations in 40 countries around the world. Basically it services about 3 million customers a day. Sells 2 million cups of coffee a day, and about 3 million doughnuts a day.

TWILLEY: And all of this from humble beginnings. Bob’s dad Bill was born in 1916, his parents were immigrants.

MILLER: He grew up from a working class, Jewish family, didn’t have a lot of money.

ROSENBERG: He dropped out of school in the eighth grade. He was a child of the Depression. And his father had seen his father fail in the supermarket business and had to go to work to help support his family when he was a kid.

GRABER: After World War II, Bill did a bunch of jobs, and he ended up in a business in Connecticut that owned trucks that provided food at factories and on construction sites.

ROSENBERG: You know, coffee, doughnuts and sandwiches. And he brought that business back to Boston and started a similar business in Boston. And grew that business from 1945 and 46 to about 1948, 49, very successfully.

TWILLEY: Doughnuts were certainly more popular than ever after World War II. But although business was good, it soon faced an existential threat.

ROSENBERG: In the years after the war, there was the invention of vending machines. They started to be populated in all of these small locations, small offices and small factory sites. Where it’s more convenient for the workers, rather than go outside and stand in the rain or in the snow, they get their coffee and they could get it inside.

GRABER: At this point, Bill had a partner in the business. The two of them heard that a brick and mortar store selling doughnuts nearby was doing pretty well. In fact, it was doing better in that one store than Bill’s twenty or so trucks.

ROSENBERG: And so in 1948, they opened something called the Open Kettle. For 25 a month rent on the Southern Artery in Quincy, Massachusetts, they opened a doughnut shop serving fresh hot doughnuts and delicious coffee.

MILLER: They named it Open Kettle because you fry doughnuts in a large open kettle of oil. And that became their first storefront. Interestingly enough, they had seating in Open Kettle, which was very different from other doughnut places before. It may even have been the first to actually have place where people could sit and linger and have their coffee and doughnuts.

TWILLEY: Which sounds like a recipe for success, and it totally wasn’t. That first Open Kettle storefront didn’t lose money but it didn’t really make much more than a truck.

ROSENBERG: And it certainly wasn’t the answer they were looking for.

GRABER: Bill and his partner heard that someone else was going to open a doughnut store nearby, and they poached that guy’s architect.

ROSENBERG: He came in, he said, you know, this sort of stucco hut with no windows isn’t a good place to showcase your business. Really what you got to do is rip it down, and put it in a California style store, change the name. Open Kettle, no one knows what you’re selling inside. And so that’s exactly what the partners did in an attempt to salvage their dream of a bigger business. And they ripped it down in the 1950s. The $1,000 a week Open Kettle closed and it was reopened with a $5,500 a week Dunkin Donut shop. That had a California style see through fishbowl kind of effect, all glass, you could look into the kitchen and watch the doughnuts being made.

TWILLEY: California style is very cool of course and seeing doughnuts get made does tend to make you want to eat one, but the other big boost was the new name.

ROSENBERG: They were sitting around deciding, Open Kettle wasn’t a particularly good name. What could they select? And they were doing a sort of a brainstorming and someone said, you know, you pick a chicken. You dunk a doughnut. And my dad said, well, that’s the name.

GRABER: At the time, dunking a doughnut in a cup of coffee was actually super common. Adolf Levitt had popularized it back in the 20s and 30s, there were doughnut dunking competitions, there was a doughnut dunking stand at the World’s Fair in the 1930s. He hired Shirley Temple to make a movie called Dora’s Dunking Doughnuts.

SINGERS: Dora’s Dunking Doughnuts! Dora’s Dunking Doughnuts! They are the rage of the land!

TWILLEY: One of the most bananas stunts Levitt pulled was hiring a guy called Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly who was apparently a famous flagpole sitter which is a thing people used to do in the 1920s as a test of endurance. Alvin dunked and ate thirteen doughnuts while doing a headstand on a plank that was hanging over the edge of the 54th story of a building in New York City. Rather him than me.

GRABER: There were comedy bits about dunking doughnuts, and even the movie star Clark Gable got in on the act. In the movie It Happened One Night, Clark Gable’s character, a reporter, teaches an heiress how to appropriately dunk a doughnut.

HEIRESS: Oh now, don’t you start telling me I shouldn’t dunk.

CLARK GABLE: Of course you shouldn’t, you don’t know how to do it. Dunking’s an art. Don’t let it soak so long. Dip and… [MOUTH FULL] pop, in your mouth. Let it hang there too long and it’ll get soft and fall off. It’s all a manner of timing. Oh, I’ll write a book about it.

HEIRESS: [LAUGHING] Thanks, professor.

CLARK GABLE: Mmm. Just goes to show you. Twenty millions and you don’t know how to dunk.

TWILLEY: Dunking was such a big deal in those days that the brand new Dunkin Donuts even made a special doughnut with a handle to help dunkers dunk more elegantly.

GRABER: That wasn’t the only special aspect of their doughnuts, the other was the shocking amount of variety that you could find in this new, light-filled, modern doughnut shop. At the time, most of their competitors only had a few options, you know, glazed, chocolate, cake, whatever.

MILLER: Howard Johnson was an important inspiration for Bill Rosenberg. And Bill Rosenberg saw that Howard Johnson’s offered 28 flavors of ice cream. And that kind of inspired him towards having as big a variety as possible. And Bill Rosenberg was a visionary. I mean, he always took everything to the extreme. So he decided that he wanted to have 52 flavors of doughnuts. Initially, his thought was they would have one new one per week. And for the first couple decades they offered 52 varieties of doughnuts.

TWILLEY: All these good ideas added up to a magic formula. Dunkin’ Donuts took off. But Bob says it was also a little bit of being in the right place at the right time.

ROSENBERG: I would call it trends aligned. There were massive changes. The highway system came into existence then under the Eisenhower administration. People started to take to the suburbs, women because of the second World War had entered the workforce. And out of economic necessity or out of desire to be able to add additional income, the growth in women away from home, working away from home and food away from home, started to take effect. And this was sort of the tailwind, the trailing wind that built this whole industry.

GRABER: There’s one other thing that made these new doughnut shops succeed, and it’s that they were open super early in the morning. They were kind of the only ones.

ROSENBERG: There were no real breakfast places open in those days other than McDonald’s, which I don’t think started to serve breakfast until the mid seventies. So if you were on the way to work and you needed, you know, a pick me up and a start to your day, there was few options.

TWILLEY: This also explains why cops became so associated with doughnuts. Cops are out on patrol at all hours, and if they wanted to stop for a quick coffee and a snack to go, they didn’t have a lot of other options.

GRABER: And so it’s not really surprising that Dunkin became a huge success. They started to grow and open new stores.

MILLER: But the reality is, it was their business model more than it was their menu that made them so successful. And their business model had to do with franchising.

GRABER: In case you haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it or heard our episode on McDonalds, just a quick reminder that franchising is when you basically sell the name and recipe for success to other folks who kind of independently run each store.

MILLER: And post-World War II was the era of these new fast food chains that were arising and the role of franchising being really key for that. Bill Rosenberg founds the International Franchising Association in 1959. So he was a leader in the industry

TWILLEY: By the 60s, everything was going great for Dunkin’. But remember, Bill was an eighth grade dropout. He’d obviously learned a ton on the job and had been super successful but he didn’t feel like he had what it took to keep that growth going. So even though he was only 47, he stepped down.

MILLER: In 1963, Bill Rosenberg passes the torch to his son Bob Rosenberg, who begins to be CEO. And Bob Rosenberg at the time. He’s fresh out of Harvard Business School.

ROSENBERG: And I was green. I was 25 years old.

GRABER: Bob was young, but he started off strong, he had a series of quick successes that grew the business. One of the secrets to his success was great advertising campaigns. And if you were in the US in the 70s and 80s, one of these campaigns will likely be stuck in your head forever.

FRED THE DONUT MAKER: Time to make the doughnuts.

ROSENBERG: We hired a guy by the name of Michael Vail to be Fred, the doughnut maker again to show the competitive advantage of our product being made fresh every four hours

FRED THE DONUT MAKER: Time to make the doughnuts. The doughnuts.

VOICEOVER: It isn’t easy owning a Dunkin Donuts. (FRED THE DONUT MAKER: time to make the doughnuts…) Because unlike most supermarkets, we make our doughnuts fresh day and night.

FRED THE DONUT MAKER: Bet the guys who make supermarket doughnuts are still in bed.

TWILLEY: Side note, Dunkin typically doesn’t make their doughnuts fresh in store anymore, they haven’t for several decades now. Streamlining doughnut production is part of how they continued to grow. They also don’t make that special doughnut with the handle for dunking anymore, sadly.

MILLER: It lasted up until 2003. It was finally discontinued because it was a tremendous hassle for the bakers. Because they couldn’t automate the making of the dunking doughnut because of the handle.

GRABER: But it wasn’t all streamlining. They added new things too. There’s one product in particular that helped them grow even bigger, and it’s probably the most common way I ate doughnuts as a kid: the Munchkin, the doughnut hole. At one point though, that was a special once-a-year treat.

ROSENBERG: We would pick up the centers at Halloween time, and we’d put them on the, on a sheet, a screen, and fry them, and put them in the little cellophane bags, and then hang them on little holders like you would get in most convenience stores where you would buy Potato chips or something like that. But it was only at halloween, and they were sold in only three varieties of cake product. There was plain, cinnamon, and sugar. And it was only a seasonal product.

TWILLEY: And then, in 1972, which was a tough time for Dunkin’ and for business generally, Bob got a call from one of his franchise owners in Connecticut. This guy was also called Bob.

ROSENBERG: He said, Edna, my wife, has found a way to sell these doughnut holes and we’re doing gangbuster business. So I said, no, no, you, you know, we used to sell these little things. They never work. He said, no, you have to understand. Edna has developed a different cutter. It’s much bigger. And she’s doing yeast doughnuts as well as cake. She’s filling them. She’s frosting them. She’s doing all kinds of things, piling them high in the front case. And our business is up something like 20%. Well! Heh, 20 percent increase in business, certainly my ears perked up.

GRABER: So of course Bob got himself down to Connecticut, and sure enough, those doughnut holes looked great and were selling like…hotcakes. Bob’s smart enough to steal a good idea when he sees one, so he made it a national thing, and they called the new invention Munchkins, after the Wizard of Oz.

MUNCHKIN KID: People kept telling my mother I look like a munchkin. Well. This is what a munchkin looks like. They have them down in Dunkin Donuts, in quite a few flavors, like…

KIDS: Jingly Jelly!


KIDS: Cheery Chocolate!

KIDS: Jingly crunch!


KIDS: Dunkin! The magic munchkin.

ROSENBERG: And it really was a real salvation, a real important impact in the 1972 life during the oil embargo and gas rationing time. Our sales again, were up about 12 or 15 percent with the introduction of munchkins.

TWILLEY: So at this point, it seems like there’s no stopping Dunkin. But that’s only if you don’t consider California, which was the personal fiefdom of the Donut King. We went to California to tell his story, that’s coming up after the break.


YAMAMOTO: My name is Phing Yamamoto and we’re at Colonial Donuts here in Oakland on Lakeshore Avenue, 3318 Lakeshore Avenue.

GRABER: Phing’s parents owned this very doughnut store for nearly forty years. Nicky and I visited early one Friday morning, and it was of course time to make the doughnuts.

RATTA: The dough, we already mix it. Right now, we put over here, we going to drop it. You see that?

TWILLEY: How long are they in there?

RATTA: This one I put for three minutes.

TWILLEY: And what are you using to move them around?

RATTA: This one is like a chopstick. Just flip it.


RATTA: This one I put for three minutes. [TIMER BEEPS] And then wait. Three minutes.

TWILLEY: There is definitely an art to making doughnuts, shaping them, flipping them, keeping the oil at exactly the right temperature. But although you can make unlimited varieties by switching up the flavors and toppings, Bob told us basically there’s just three mixes—three different recipes that are used as the basis for all the different doughnuts.

ROSENBERG: There is a cake mix, which is leavened by baking soda, which is very cakey, made of soft wheat. There is a yeast product that’s leavened by yeast, and that makes the rings that you see, the fluffy rings, And, and then there’s a, a cruller mix, which is nothing more than a popover fried, which, which is what a French cruller is. It’s, it’s got eggs and flour.

GRABER: At Colonial, they riff off those basic recipes and make around fifty different varieties. Phing would have handed us as many as we wanted to try, but there’s only so many doughnuts a person can eat at any one time. We had to be a LITTLE choosy.


GRABER: We need to try a cruller. We need to try a raised. Maybe an ube cake? Yeah. I think we should try an ube cake.

YAMAMOTO: I know, it’s… decisions.

TWILLEY: So many decisions, we basically kind of gave up and ended up with eight doughnuts which was really too many for two people but we suffer for our art.

GRABER: We started with the doughnut of my childhood and the one I always think of as my favorite, which was a yeasted doughnut with a chocolate glaze.

GRABER: Oh yeah, this is my, this is my typical doughnut. Mm! It’s still my favorite doughnut! So far. I like the chewiness, I like the airiness, I like the chocolate glaze on it.

TWILLEY: Listen, this is a very good version of a classic doughnut. I just… It’s too light and fluffy for me.

TWILLEY: Then we moved onto one that is apparently very traditional but was new to me—a buttermilk cake doughnut.

TWILLEY: This is a much more substantial and dense.

GRABER: Yes, it is. Yes, it is.

TWILLEY: It is cake like.

GRABER: Mm. Hmm! A little tangy. That’s really good. I’ve never had this before.

TWILLEY: This is delicious. Where’s it been my whole life?

GRABER: And then we moved onto an ube doughnut, ube is a dark purple and super sweet tuber, and the doughnut also had lots of crunchy bits all around it.

TWILLEY: Alright, this is a beautiful purple.

GRABER: It is.

TWILLEY: On the inside too.

GRABER: It has sweet potato and ube in it. Hmm! Mm. That was really good. I like the crunch of the like, extra crispy cake crumb bits around it.

TWILLEY: It’s so soft and so cakey and not too sweet at all and the flavor is incredible. This is a dream.

GRABER: It might be my new favorite.

TWILLEY: While we snarfed up Phing’s delicious doughnuts, she told us a little bit about her story. She’d only recently come back to work in the family business, previously she’d had a tech job in Silicon Valley. But she basically grew up in her parents’ doughnut stores.

YAMAMOTO: And growing up, you know, I was—at school, I was called the doughnut princess because everyone knew [LAUGHS] that my parents had owned the local store, you know, doughnut shop. And so it was. It was almost expected that for my birthday, I brought in doughnuts for everyone. So. [LAUGHS]

GRABER: She didn’t just eat the doughnuts, she started working in the shop, too.

YAMAMOTO: Absolutely. I started at nine, nine years old, and I still remember learning how my mom was trying to teach me to do the change, and I just, like, could not get it. [LAUGHS]

TWILLEY: Phing’s parents were refugees from Cambodia.

YAMAMOTO: My dad was in the war for four years. My mom five. An extra year because she was a refugee in Thailand.

GRABER: In the 1970s in Cambodia, there was a civil war. Here’s a very basic overview of a very complicated political situation that America was also involved in, but overall, the Khmer Rouge took over the country, and Pol Pot became the dictator. This is from an episode of the tv news show Dateline from 1975.

BROADCASTER: The Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh. They evacuated the capital. Two million people, including thousands of hospital patients, were forced onto the road and marched into the countryside.

TWILLEY: Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, he had this idea that everyone should work the land. Intellectuals or people with Western connections were mostly executed, and families were sent out to the fields, where they were split up, with kids as young as six taken away from their parents.

GRABER: Estimates are that between one and a half and three million people died during this time. And those who could get out, got out—about 150,000 Cambodians came to the US.

YAMAMOTO: And my aunt who was already in the States, she ventured to California because she heard that there was a lot of, you know, doughnut businesses that are making money. And, you know, that’s the American dream, right? They want to own something and, you know, have some… something to do that. You know, it’s hard working, but something that they can do.

TWILLEY: Turns out, this is a story you can hear about doughnut shops all over California.

MICHELLE SOU: Yeah, so my family, both sides of my family are Cambodian refugees. They came escaping the genocide, the Khmer Rouge that happened. My dad, who was like in his teenage years, was forced to build trenches or like really rudimentary dams. Other people had to farm. So my mom was doing rice.

GRABER: Michelle Sou’s parents escaped the Khmer Rouge and ended up in California, in their case, LA, and like Phing’s parent they too ended up owning a doughnut shop.

SOU: At night time I would learn to fall asleep on the uh, benches that we had, because we would clean everything up. We, my brother and I would, you know, have our chores basically, like instead of chores at home, it was chores at the doughnut shop. We also had weddings, for family weddings when those ended, we still had to go back to the doughnut shop. And so instead of, you know, returning home, we would have to run in our like wedding dress, guest dressed attire to close up.

TWILLEY: Doughnuts were life for Michelle. Her uncles and her whole family—they pretty much all owned doughnut shops and were in the doughnut business.

SOU: And I had no idea. Like I knew the circle that I lived in in Southern California as family, and so I just thought it was like a funny coincidence that so many of my family members own these doughnut shops. But I had no idea that it was a true community of people. And that’s beyond just the family members that I know, but rather a whole community of immigrants that had found a way to, to start a life in a country like this. Where it’s undoubtedly difficult to… find a way through without a lot of education or opportunities to have education.

GRABER: One thing they could do was own a doughnut shop. Turns out that today, 90 percent of all the independent doughnut shops in California are owned by Cambodian refugees. And that’s because of one guy, Ted Ngoy, the doughnut king of California. He got out of Cambodia just before the Khmer Rouge took over, and he was a refugee in southern California where he was working at a gas station.

TED NGOY: I remember it was a slow night. About midnight. And there’s no traffic. I run real fast. Come to this window right here. I say, lady, I would like to buy some doughnut. Say okay, I sell you a dozen doughnuts. I fall in love with doughnut from the moment that I have a bite.

TWILLEY: This is Ted himself, the doughnut king, from a documentary about his life called, you guessed, The Donut King.

NGOY: So I asked, lady, if I can save up to 3000 dollar, do you think I can open a doughnut shop like this? And she said, no, don’t open your own doughnut shop. Just go to learn from Winchell.

TWILLEY: Winchell’s is still a big doughnut chain in California. And Ted took the lady’s advice. He completed their three month training program, he took over a Winchell’s shop in Orange County, and he and his wife Christy worked and worked and saved and saved. For one, they didn’t hire anybody—they just did everything themselves.

GRABER: Cutting down on payroll meant that soon they’d saved up enough money to buy their own doughnut shop, which they named Christy’s. They were still running the Winchell’s. And then they kept buying more and more doughnut shops until they owned 25 of them.

TWILLEY: Ted and Christy were some of the earliest refugees from Cambodia to arrive in the US. To get out of the camps you had to have a sponsor, and so Ted started to sponsor other families. And because he was so successful, lots of his fellow Cambodian immigrants came to him to figure out how to also be successful in America. And he showed them all the way of the doughnut.

NGOY: Me and Christy, we talk among ourselves, then we kind of, create leasing program. One store after overhead make 7000 on net. I lease that for 3000, let family make 4000. I only lease it to Cambodian American.

GRABER: One Cambodian family then taught another, and another, like how Phing’s aunt heard about it and then told her parents. All the Cambodian refugees learned they could make a living and a life in California by owning a doughnut shop.

SOU: And so you’ll see a lot of doughnut shops that are independently owned but are connected one way or another, either through, relatives or community, just, you know, family and friends.

YAMAMOTO: When you come to a country without an education and you can work hard and still make a living, I think it’s, it’s something that they’re like, hey. We can do this.

TWILLEY: And they did. And because there were so many of them and they worked so hard and kept payroll so low by putting their entire families to work, these Cambodian-American indie doughnut shops were able to hold even the mighty Dunkin Donuts at bay.

NGOY: Dunkin had to make at least 50,000 a month to survive. And Cambodian doughnut shop, make 10,000 they can survive.

ROSENBERG: And I didn’t have enough ad dollars at the time to have national advertising. So as a result of that, I pretty much stayed away. Tried a couple of abortive attempts. But, but basically I stayed away from the West coast and was not particularly successful in the few forays I had.

GRABER: While Cambodian Americans claimed the West Coast doughnut scene, Bob worked with plenty of immigrants in Dunkin’s markets. They mostly franchised to immigrants from the Azores on the east coast and from India and Pakistan in the midwest.

TWILLEY: And that’s been a big part of Dunkin’s success story, too. All of which meant that, just a few years ago, Dunkin got big enough to try its luck in California again.

ROSENBERG: Today, that’s a different story. Today Dunkin has tens of millions, maybe 50, 60, 70 million worth of ad weight. That they can use on TV. And, and the fact that they can do it under a brand, where the Cambodians had individual stores, didn’t have access to a central company to create new products, new marketing techniques. They’re now, I think, very successfully, embarking on developing the West Coast

TWILLEY: Since 2014, Los Angeles and San Francisco each have a handful of Dunkin’ stores and the brand has big expansion plans. But even still this is not a tale of Goliath crushing David. Dunkin’ has come to California, but the Cambodian independents have stayed, and now there’s just more doughnuts to go around. In the documentary about Ted, there’s an incredible stat that in the US there’s about one doughnut shop for every 30,000 people on average. In LA, we’ve got one shop for every 7,000!

GRABER: A similar kind of doughnut war played out when the chain Krispy Kreme started leaving its stronghold in the southeast and attempting to encroach on Dunkin’s territory, we’ll tell you about that in our special supporters’ newsletter. Needless to say, it ends with more doughnuts all around.

TWILLEY: Even the more recent hipster doughnut and cronut trends—all they’ve done is keep increasing the overall doughnut pie, so to speak.

GRABER: And to be honest, Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t mind all this doughnut competition, because these days they’ve actually officially changed their name to Dunkin’. It’s honestly more about the coffee today than the doughnuts.

ROSENBERG: The business has migrated and changed over the years. When I first became CEO in 1963, it was 60 percent doughnuts and 40 percent beverages. And that’s all flipped, between beverages and snacks, including doughnuts.

VOICEOVER: America runs on Dunkin’.

MAN: America runs on Dunkin’.

WOMAN: America runs on Dunkin’.

TWILLEY: This is Dunkin’s current advertising slogan, no more time to make the doughnuts. Instead it’s all about America and where America goes to get caffeinated. I mean, you’re not running on a doughnut, are you?

GRABER: And this next bit isn’t about doughnuts exactly, but we couldn’t ignore it—we don’t get many excuses to get Hollywood A list celebrities on the show. In Boston, Dunkin’s home turf, the most all-American local boy who’s regularly seen with his large iced Dunkin coffee in hand is Ben Affleck. And earlier this year he…well, let’s just say he took on a bit of a side hustle.

BROADCASTER: Talk about wow. Some customers at a Dunkin drive-through near Boston got quite a surprise today.

LISA MCKAY: I pulled up, and there he was, handing me my iced coffee. He was actually really funny, super, super nice, really funny, and everything I expected him to be, he was.

BROADCASTER: Ben Affleck, workin’ the window.

TWILLEY: A little side hustle that ended up as a Super Bowl commercial.

BEN AFFLECK: Welcome to Dunkin’— a new special: Dunkin Run, medium or large coffee. Get a doughnut for an incremental dollar.

JENNIFER LOPEZ: What are you doing here? Is this what you’re doing when you say you’re going to work all day?

AFFLECK: I gotta go, guys.

LOPEZ: Grab me a glazed.

TWILLEY: J. Lo loves a glazed doughnut supposedly. Ben clearly loves his Dunkin’. But really, everyone loves doughnuts.

ROSENBERG: Everybody. All age groups, all socioeconomic.

GRABER: Everyone around the world, too. As we’ve said, almost every culture has some sort of fried doughnut-y type food. But really, the doughnuts we know and love were invented and perfected here. They’ve become kind of quintessentially American.

KRONDL: In Europe, doughnuts were a special occasion treat. You would have them on special holidays, a few times a year. Here, they became every day, and one of the things about American food is abundance and ubiquity. So that these special occasion foods are something that you can have day in and day out for in the case of doughnuts, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

TWILLEY: Everyday is special in America. But also doughnuts are part of the immigrant story that is so central to this country.

KRONDL: In that way they have brought different kinds of cultures to the United States. And these have melded and blended and turned into, you know, the melting pot of doughnut dough.

TWILLEY: Another way the doughnut story is all-American is that it’s really all about that small business, entrepreneurial spirit. Even though Dunkin’ is so huge, doughnuts are one of the strongholds of the indies in corporate America. And that’s kind of cool!

MILLER: Actually, in terms of profit, small operators, small doughnut shops and chains, are roughly equivalent in sales to the combination of Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme combined. So there’s been an amazing persistence to independent and small chain operators that I think allow for more innovation, and I think that’s where you see more of these specialty doughnuts and different flavors and, culinary innovation coming out, because they’re able to do that for their customers.

GRABER: And, maybe because of all of that, these shops are often about more than doughnuts. They’re about community, they’re a place where you can run into people you know and buy a box to take with you to share.

YAMAMOTO: It’s the nostalgic feeling of warmth and comfort and security. And I think—and I hope that’s what our doughnuts bring for people. And that’s why they keep coming.


TWILLEY: Thanks this episode to Phing Yamamoto of Colonial Donuts in Oakland, I can’t stop dreaming about their ube cake ring. And to Michelle Sou—she’s helped gather the stories of the second and third generation Cambodian-American kids who grew up in their families doughnut shops at Pink Box Stories, links to that online.

GRABER: Thanks also to Michael Krondl, Bonnie Miller, and Bob Rosenberg, we have links to their books and research on our website, And thanks as always to our fabulous producer, Claudia Geib.

TWILLEY: We’ll be back in a couple of weeks, ‘til then!