by Abigail Buonaiuto
In the early days of the Great Depression, an entrepreneur named Ishmael Armstrong purchased a doughnut shop from a French chef named Joseph LeBeau (or possibly LeBoeuf). Using the name and the yeast doughnut recipe that came with the sale, he opened the Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop in Paducah, Kentucky, in 1933.
After an ill-fated attempt to move the shop from Kentucky to Nashville, Tennessee, Armstrong’s nephew, Vernon Rudolph, took a loan from his father and opened his own shop in Winston-Salem on July 13, 1937. While his initial plan was to sell his signature Krispy Kreme doughnuts to local grocery stores, passersby began to smell the doughnuts frying in his Old Salem bakery and asked if they were available for purchase. This prompted a sales window and sell directly to customers.
Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, each location within the growing chain of stores made its doughnuts from scratch. While they used the original recipe, Rudolph was unhappy with inconsistencies in the product, so Krispy Kreme opened a mix plant and distributed uniform dry mix to each store. This eventually led to the automation of the process through custom machinery that streamlined everything from cooking to glazing.
Starting in the 1960s, Krispy Kreme expanded outside of the Southeast. The delicious doughnuts were the primary reason why the expansion was a success. But the company’s signature appearance for the stores also played a role. The green tile roofs and heritage road signs were unique and easy for consumers to recognize.
Vernon Rudolph passed away in 1973, and his family sold Krispy Kreme to Beatrice Foods Company three years later. Beatrice Foods changed the familiar signage and altered the doughnut recipe in an attempt to cut costs. Many early franchisees, led by Joe McAleer, formed a group that bought Krispy Kreme in 1982 and reversed all changes that Beatrice Foods had made.
More expansion followed. The first store in New York City opened in 1996. The first store in California opened in 1999. Krispy Kreme became a publicly traded company a year later. Canada was chosen as the site of the first international location, and a store opened outside of Toronto in late 2001. To date, Krispy Kreme is operating over 700 stores around the world.
The company has maintained a commitment to community service, raising $39 million in 2015 for educational, religious, charitable, and community causes. In addition to the ongoing Cops on Doughnut Shops program that raises money for the Special Olympics, Krispy Kreme also participates in the annual Drive for 45 Campaign with Kyle Petty and the Victory Junction Camp.
Vernon’s son, Carver Rudolph, recalls, “When I asked him why the doughnuts were so successful, he’d say, ‘Blood, sweat, and tears — just hard work.’” Nearly 81 years after Vernon Rudolph opened North Carolina’s first Krispy Kreme, the brand has distinguished itself by selling arguably the tastiest doughnuts on the planet, particularly when the iconic “Hot Now” sign is illuminated.
Charles Fishman, “The King of Kreme,” Fast Company, September 30, 1999.
Kirk Kazanjian and Amy Joyner, Making Dough: The 12 Secret Ingredients of Krispy Kreme’s Sweet Success, John Wiley & Sons, 2004.