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Don’t be jelly: Randy’s Donuts is on the rise in the hands of a Newport Beach family

Mark Kelegian
Newport Beach’s Mark Kelegian purchased Randy’s Donuts in Inglewood in 2015 to run as a family business. They will open their fifth store March 9 in Costa Mesa.
(Kevin Chang / Times Community News)

Mark Kelegian was operating casinos with his dad and brother in 2015 when he started thinking about a business he might run with his wife and three daughters.

A quick search at an online marketplace returned a hit. “Fifty-year-old well-known restaurant for sale,” read the posting. No name was listed.

“I’m thinking it’s probably one of those old Jewish delis on the Westside or in Beverly Hills,” he recalled. “So I called up, and this girl answered, ‘Randy’s Donuts.’”

An entrepreneur who had been an attorney for nearly 20 years, the Newport Beach resident thought he knew an opportunity when he saw it. He made his move, and in the span of a single transaction had purchased an L.A. icon.

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First as Big Donut Drive-in, and later as Randy’s, the 750-square-foot shop in Inglewood has been slinging dough since Eisenhower took office. A main draw to tourists and locals alike is the massive doughnut-shaped sign perched atop its tiny roof. Composed of gunite, a mixture of sand, cement and water used in swimming pools, the pastry stands proud at 32 feet.

The iconic Randy's Donuts in in Inglewood
Randy’s Donuts was run by two brothers from 1978 to 2015, when Newport Beach resident Mark Kelegian purchased it with a plan to grow it into a global brand.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

But while its sign was colossal, Randy’s business model was bite-size. Brothers Ron and Larry Weintraub purchased the shop in 1978, retained the name and ran it as a single storefront for the next 37 years.

Only in Kelegian’s hands would the iconic L.A. bakery rise to possible global prominence. After studying the ins and outs of the Inglewood store for more than a year, the family-owned business began branching out.

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Since 2017, Sansmark Inc. — the name adds the initials of Kelegian’s wife, Shelly, and daughters Ashley, Nicolette and Susan to his own first name — has opened locations in El Segundo, Pasadena, Torrance and Downey and worked out deals with franchisees in South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

They’re setting their sights next on stores in Santa Monica, Bakersfield and Burbank and have plans in the works for franchises in France, Egypt, Kuwait and Morocco.

“My interest all along has been to expand the brand. I think it could be the next big doughnut franchise chain in the nation and the world,” Kelegian said. “So we’re going to be making big pushes domestically and internationally, but we’re always going to be about the doughnuts.”

The Kelegian family will celebrate a homecoming March 9, when a new Randy’s Donuts location opens its doors at 29030 Harbor Blvd. in Costa Mesa, the first of many shops planned for Orange County.

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Ashley and Nicolette will be on hand to help things run smoothly. Head baker Ishmael Garcia, who started at Randy’s decades ago, will be in the kitchen overseeing quality control. Even the Weintraub brothers have been known to turn up at store openings.

“We’re so fortunate to work for such an iconic brand,” said Nicolette Kelegian, 28, who studied broadcast journalism at USC and worked as a talent agent before joining her dad in 2016. “There’s so many different pieces, and I try to get my hand in all these parts — it’s exciting.”

Like the Inglewood and Downey locations, the Costa Mesa store will feature a rooftop doughnut, a sign that defies city ordinances but was approved in November. At 25 feet in diameter, the fiberglass figure is supported by steel interior beams and weighs more than 15,000 pounds. The behemoth traveled early Tuesday from its birthplace in San Pedro north on the Pacific Coast Highway to Harbor Boulevard.

During its morning installation, drivers slowed to see the spectacle, and pedestrians snapped selfies with the giant baked good.

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Ashley Kelegian, 27 — who studied communications at USC and worked as a purchaser for New York’s Bergdorf Goodman department store before segueing to a corporate-level position at Shake Shack and eventually joining the family enterprise — said that while the iconic signs are a draw, there’s much more to Randy’s Donuts.

“I think it comes down to good quality,” she said. “People are standing in line for hours on opening day, because it’s just a good doughnut.”

Cardine writes for Times Community News.


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