Donut Man Runs Rings Around the Competition
Some days it seems as if all of Los Angeles is lined up in front of the Donut Man’s modest shack in Glendora, an outlying suburb of this sprawling city. People crowd the two rickety wooden benches on the tiny front porch and snake around the building, sucking in the aromas of ripe fruit, sugary glaze and yeasty dough. Regulars include local college students, young mothers wheeling strollers, road-weary truck drivers, and the occasional celebrity (Roy Rogers and Elvis loved them — Jessie Jackson and Anthony Robbins still do). Fanatics drive for hours to get here, only to wait for the first batch of the day with the reverence of pilgrims on El Camino de Santiago. The sky is still dark and they’re already lined up, anxiously waiting.
For enlightenment? Not really. Salvation? Sort of. Fulfillment? Absolutely. They’re here for doughnuts, the simple sweet of indeterminate origin that Americans popularized far beyond our own borders.
It’s ironic that some of the very best of these iconic treats are made by Jim Nakano, an American-born Japanese baker. As a child, during World War II, he lived for a while with his family in a relocation camp. The experience left them bitter and broken, but not defeated. Jim worked his way through college and then served in the military. While working as a manager at J.C. Penney, he took a trip to Europe. There he met Miyoko, the woman who would become his life partner. In 1969 they flew to Japan to marry in the company of family and friends.
They settled in Glendora, California, where they bought a doughnut franchise. But Jim had an unconventional idea of what a doughnut could be and the pair set out to prove it. As independent owners, they turned their modest, cash-only, open-round-the-clock business into a mecca for the best doughnuts in the city, and possibly anywhere. Forget Krispy Kreme, Stan's, Randy's, Bob's and Blinkie's — for doughnut nirvana, a doughnut of greatness to the tenth power, one that is the quintessence of doughnutness, there is no match for the handmade beauties of Jim Nakano, the Donut Man.
Park in the rear lot and walk past the stacks of empty wooden crates that once held the juiciest strawberries, the ripest peaches, and other locally grown fruits that met Nakano’s exacting standards. Whoever said you can’t improve on Mother Nature had not tasted these handcrafted, close-to-a-pound beauties.
At the stand, tension builds and tummies rumble as the first donuts emerge from their quick bath in high quality kosher oil. Jim halves a fluffy, yeasty dough pillow with the precision of a samurai swordsman and stuffs it to overflowing with vine-ripened strawberries embedded in hand-mixed fresh fruit glaze. “It looks easy but it’s a tremendous amount of work,” admits the modest Nakano as he bestows his creation on the supplicant with the good fortune to be first in line.
Jim also makes custom and holiday donuts, and even his standard buttermilk bars; glazed cream cheese; tiger tails; toasted coconut crumb; rainbow-sprinkled, nutmeg-flecked cake donuts; and buttery cinnamon rolls, elevate the ordinary to the extraordinary. “I don’t come from doughnuts,” Jim admits. But in Southern California, where 1,600 doughnut shops make this the doughnut capital of the world, he’s definitely arrived.
Donut Man is located at 915 E. Route 66, Glendora, CA (626) 335-9111