Success is sweet

Business school alumnus still enjoys the fruits of his labor, 40 years after opening The Donut Man

Jim Nakano in front of The Donut Man shop

Located on a humble strip of Route 66 in the foothills of Glendora sits a retro-looking shop called The Donut Man that fries up mouthwatering masterpieces.

Jim ’62 and Miyoko Nakano have been serving gourmet doughnuts to locals, travelers and foodies 24 hours a day since they took over the stand in the 1970s.

Working as a manager for J.C. Penney in Ventura in the early 1970s, Nakano figured he wasn’t making enough to fulfill the dream of home ownership. So he discussed the possibilities with his wife.

“She said, “I like hot doughnuts,’ ” he recalls with a smile. And he set about to turn that interest into a business venture.

Nakano visited and sampled at bakeries, studied French pastries and looked into available locations. Pinpointing a Foster’s Donuts shop in the residential community of Glendora, he bought the franchise in 1972.

The Nakanos then made the business their own. Miyoko set the standard for service—greeting each customer, getting to know regulars and helping them to cars with boxes of hot doughnuts—until she stopped working in 1980 to tend to family. Meanwhile, Jim managed the business and opted for all-natural ingredients in order to keep quality high. “Customers,” he notes, “can really taste the difference.”

In 1974, a farmer friend suggested Nakano “do something with strawberries,” after a fruitful harvest. And the strawberry doughnut was created—a marvel of fried dough brimming with whole, bright red strawberries shiny with glaze. It became an instant hit, although availability is seasonally limited.

The strawberry delicacy naturally inspired the peach version. And for decades, customers have been lining up for seasonal specialties, traditional favorites and more, including Bavarian cream, raspberry cream cheese, cream puff crullers and tiger tails—glazed chocolate-ribboned twists gobbled up piping hot by college students who flock to the shop in the wee hours.

Customer Tips:
  • Seasonal strawberry doughnuts available Januady to mid-July and September to October
  • Season peach doughnuts available July to September
  • Ask what’s hot off the fryer. Doughnuts made fresh all day and night.

Even the karate instructor for Elvis Presley used to pick up raspberry doughnuts for “The King.”

In 1985, with a thriving business and a good customer base, the Nakanos decided to become independent but had difficulty coming up with the right name. Out to dinner one night, a little girl came up and exclaimed, “It’s the doughnut man!” and that was it.

After being featured on public television’s “Visiting…with Huell Howser,” the shop was swarmed for months and had difficulty keeping up with demand, Nakano said. Similar surges came after segments on the “Food Network,” “The Cooking Channel” and in numerous articles, with endorsements from famed food critics including Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Gold.

Nakano says lessons he learned as a business student at Cal State L.A. still influence the way he runs the business. He recalls that one professor said he had an interesting outlook on business and encouraged him. “I was not a top student. I had a very good teacher, but he said he could tell I was bored. He would say, “Your answers are very interesting and unique in how you approach business. I really think you can be a big success, but don’t give up because it’s very challenging out in the real world.’”

The basics of business are always the same, he learned. Customer service, location, and a quality product are key. Nakano has seen other businesses that cut corners eventually suffer. “I follow the rules completely,” he said. “I think that’s why I’ve been successful. I’m hard-headed. I won’t change.”

He has been approached to expand to other locations, but prefers to keep operations limited to Glendora, where he can closely supervise his 20 employees and the product. And while he’s cut back his own hours in recent years, Nakano, who did achieve that dream of buying a home, can still be found lending a hand and greeting customers for the morning rush.