Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Donut Man

Shun (), or seasonality, is paramount to Japanese cuisine. Not just gourmands who are constantly in and out of kaiseki restaurants, but everyone knows when the first crop of rice will hit the supermarkets and will snap up bags. Now imagine if you went to your nearest Kroger supermarket and your Wonderbread advertised that it was made from the first wheat crop of the year. That's what it's like to live in Japan, seasonality is just a part of life.

The same goes for the Donut Man. If you live in the greater Los Angeles area, you probably already know about the Donut Man, originally established as a Foster's franchise location in 1972. But for those of you not familiar with the Donut Man, it's a pretty unassuming place. A stand-alone shack on a quiet stretch of the historic Route 66, it looks like every other shop peddling sugary dough in the wee hours of the morning.
Jim Nakano (photo from DM's FB)

Except the crowd around it... and it's open 24/7, so that crowd is present at 10 pm.

So you approach, and the giant hand painted signs on the windows let you know there's more to these donuts than glazed or jelly-filled. Depending on when you make your trek, you might be lucky to score a strawberry or peach-filled donut. These beauties don't resemble doughnuts so much as a treasure chests stuffed with fresh fruit; glazed donuts are sliced and propped open like a clamshell with glazed strawberries or peach slices.

The fervor surround these doughnuts are brought to a higher pitch because they are only available seasonally. Craving a strawberry doughnut in December? Tough luck. The Donut Man will only make these fruit creations during the fruit's peak season here in Southern California. Right now, they have pumpkin doughnuts and blueberry stuffed creme puffs as well as donuts sprinkled red and green for Christmas.

Of course, being a hapa Japanese American food blogger, it is a totally fair argument that my personal worldview biases me on this, but I believe that it's no coincidence that the man behind the Strawberry and Peach Donuts, Jim Nakano, happens to be a fellow Japanese American.

The bars are HUGE
He could undoubtedly make more money by serving these creations year-round.

Even if the quality of the strawberries wasn't the same, they would still sell. Crunchy, flavorless fruit imported from another country would probably make him more money than sourcing from local California farms, but it is obvious he would rather make less money and produce a superior product. I believe it's obvious that the Donut Man Jim Nakano cares about shun, cares about the season's effects on something as mundane as a donut, and the resulting near-hysteria surrounding these doughnuts shows that it is the key to Donut Man's longevity. Nakano has been in the business since 1974.
Crullers and the Tiger Tail

For the record, however I applaud the seasonality of Donut Man's specials, they aren't always my favorites. Don't get me wrong, I love the strawberry and peach donuts, but they are hard to eat. If I can sit down with a fork, they are the doughnut to beat (all those more coordinated than me can laugh). But when I'm scarfing a doughnut in between patients, I turn to the maple bar or the tiger tail. The maple bar is so soft, the maple glaze is not too saccharine-sweet, and it's a donut I can actually eat one-handed. Boasting a swirl of chocolate, the tiger tail is a glazed foot-long twist. I love that the glaze is never slimy or gloppy, something that I usually note and hate in doughnuts like Krispy Kreme.
Pumpkin and winter season creme puffs

I hate when things are over-hyped, so for the record, these are doughnuts, not the second coming. But one needs to recognize when a simple thing is done right. If you want a simple donut done right, head to the Donut Man.

And yes, I really did write a mini-essay about shun and strawberry donuts. It's what I do.

The Donut Man
915 E Rte 66,
Glendora, CA 91740
(626) 335-9111

The Donut Man on Urbanspoon


  1. Nice. I will have to find these donuts the next time in LA.

  2. OMG those look amazing! Glendora...I'm there!!