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Surviving the coronavirus shutdown: People need doughnuts and the Donut Man abides

Strawberry doughnuts from the Donut Man
Fresh strawberry doughnuts from the Donut Man on Route 66 in Glendora.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

When you’ve been dubbed “the first destination doughnut in Los Angeles” by Jonathan Gold, a critical factor of your success is the ability to draw people through snarled traffic for a glazed, gleaming, glutinous ring of fried dough.

But for the last two weeks, it’s been the locals who’ve kept business going at the Donut Man in Glendora on Route 66.

“We’re finding a lot of people, to get out of the house, they’re stopping by for some doughnuts,” Aaron Wearp said. Wearp is the general manager of the venerable doughnut parlor that is still churning out thousands of crullers, old fashioneds and epic strawberry doughnuts every day.

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The Donut Man used to be a stopping-off point for early risers on their way to work, but with so many people staying home these days, the a.m. rush has dried up and now the peak time has shifted to later in the day.

“That crowd is gone,” Wearp said.

A customer browses the selection of doughnuts at the Donut Man in Glendora.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

In the first few days after the statewide shelter-in-place mandate, loyalty to the Donut Man caused a few problems: People were lining up too closely for these socially distant times.

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“We’ve had to find unique ways to keep that line down,” Wearp said. That includes a system to control the flow. (Show up, leave your name and number, then wait for a text saying you’re next in line, at which point you’re minutes from a car full of doughnuts.)

So far Wearp has been able to hang on to all of his nearly 40 employees. But to reduce contact and keep his staff and customers safe, he’s cut some hours and workers have to change gloves after helping every customer.

“We’re probably over-sanitizing,” said Wearp, who used to have his supply deliveries taken straight into the store. Now, pallets of flour and dried goods are dropped off outside to limit contact.

Jasmine Gonzalez moves a freshly made tray of doughnuts.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
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While the shutdown has been devastating for restaurants everywhere, its timing was particularly unfortunate for the Donut Man: The initial order suspending dine-in service was made March 15, the night before Donut Man’s much-anticipated second location was scheduled to open in downtown L.A.

“We’re ready. The neon is up,” Wearp said. But now the Donut Man’s first L.A. outpost is “off indefinitely.”

“It’s just not a good climate,” he said. “On that end, it’s been terrible.”

But the Donut Man has weathered storms before. Even in times of trouble, people can’t seem to resist fried dough. It’s a lesson Wearp learned from the original “Donut Man,” founder Jim Nakano.

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“Jim found out during the 2008 recession that doughnuts are so American and a part of Southern California DNA that, even in hard times, people still really like a doughnut,” Wearp said. “They understand that we’re offering an escape.”

915 E. Route 66, Glendora, (626) 335-9111, thedonutmanca.com

Jim Nakano, 79, founder of the Donut Man.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)


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