Some dreams don’t fit inside boxes. Those dreams are “out-of-the-box” as they say, and are meant to be pursued as such. For Vernon Rudolph, not so much. His dreams fit perfectly inside a box. Alongside those dreams fit twelve round and delicious Krispy perfections.
The first Krispy Kremes were sold door-to-door in Paducah, Kentucky. A local store owner, Ishmael Armstrong, had purchased a secret doughnut recipe from New Orleans chef Joe LeBeau. Armstrong hired his nephew, Rudolph, to sell them. The rest is pastry history.
Before we go any further, let’s get one thing straight. Doughnuts are not a Southern food by birth. Sure, we eat our fair share, but consuming fried dough actually came to the United States through New Amsterdam (now Manhattan) as a Dutch food that translated to “oily cakes.” Doesn’t sound quite as appetizing as the doughnut. The term is believed to have originated in the mid 1800’s from the mother of a New England ship captain. Elizabeth Gregory would make a fried dough with lemon rind (to prevent scurvy) that was filled in the middle with hazelnuts or walnuts.
However, Krispy Kreme doughnuts we claim as our own. The giant Southern pastry chain we know and love today all started in 1937 when Vernon Rudolph established a true “hole in the wall.” Literally.
Rudolph and two friends had moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. There he rented a small space and relied upon the kindness of a friendly grocer who allowed Rudolph to borrow the necessary ingredients until the business took off. It didn’t take long. Rudolph’s original glazed doughnuts were quickly a hit in the local grocery stores, but there’s just something about getting one fresh from the fryer and still hot. Well, the people walking by smelling the aroma of freshly fried doughnuts agreed. To meet the demands of the people, he cut a hole in an outside wall of his building to sell directly to the streets. Customers could walk up and buy freshly-made original glazed doughnuts straight from the source, with the rare glimpse of the behind-the-scenes operations.
After returning from World War II, Rudolph dove straight back into his business, perhaps with even more zeal, as it seemed the South couldn’t get enough of the fried confections. The 1950’s introduced the automatic “Ring King Jr.” that could make seventy-five doughnuts in an hour. A far cry from the early days of handmade creations. With the chain expanding to twenty-nine stores in twelve states by the late 1950’s, that was one helpful machine.
Although Krispy Kreme had come far from its humble beginnings, it still operated its stores with the same system of the company’s first operation in the Old Salem neighborhood. Customers could have their cake and eat it too, viewing the entire doughnut making process behind the glass counter and display case, always watching for the neon “hot donuts” sign to light up. Because there is nothing as tasty as a freshly made original glazed.
In 1973, the ever expanding Krispy Kreme family had grown to sixty stores throughout the Southeast. That same year, they grieved the loss of their leader when Rudolph unexpectedly passed away. The fate of Krispy Kreme was held in trust by a bank for three years before being sold to a larger food service business that didn’t seem to hold quite the same expectations and vision as Rudolph. But loyalty ran deep within the Krispy Kreme family, and a few years later it was sold again. This time the company made its way back to its former glory, as Rudolph’s Krispy Kreme employees took back operations.
In February 2015 Krispy Kreme celebrated the opening of its one thousandth store. Much has changed since Rudolph first cut a hole in the wall of a building to sell his doughnuts to passersby, and no longer do fans have to wait for the sign to light up to alert them to fresh creations—the “Hot Light” app launched in 2011 to let customers know when their local Krispy Kreme favorites are at their best. But no matter how many things change, some things will always remain the same. Joe Lebeau’s secret recipe that started it all? It’s still in the hands of the Krispy Kreme family. Locked away tight in a vault, remaining top secret. Just the way Vernon Rudolph would have it.
See More Krispy Kreme Dream Photos Here