Holey Doughnut!

Hot and sweet: who doesn’t love the melt-in-your-mouth goodness of a classic Krispy Kreme doughnut? In this political season, one thing all campaign headquarters of every party will have in common: the ubiquitous box(es) of Krispy Kreme product.

What fuels the phone bank, encourages the corner sign-holders, keeps up the courage of the canvassers plodding the streets with address lists, puts something in the hands of the campaign bigwigs as they huddle in the back office? Krispy Kreme tops that ballot. Hot, sugary, squishy: there is just something about a Krispy Kreme Original Glazed that gets your mouth’s attention.

In the birthplace of the beignet, the humble doughnut has always found a market. There are national brands (Dunkin’ Donuts, for one) and local competitors, including District, Blue Dot, City, Bakers Dozen and Buttermilk Drop. One company, dating from the 1960s and still with a handful of locations in the area, is Tastee Donuts, begun by Gil Copeland, brother of Al Copeland (father of Popeye’s Chicken.)

Krispy Kreme seems to be a latecomer: 50 years ago, you couldn’t even buy one in town. According to a September 5, 1963, article in the Times-Picayune, Krispy-Kreme Doughnut Company of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, first registered in Louisiana as a foreign corporation in late August, 1963. By November, 1974, Pap’s Food Store at 1900 Mirabeau Ave. was advertising Krispy Kreme Do Nuts “received and dated fresh daily.” By 1979, local Winn-Dixie’s boasted “Krispy Kreme Glazed Do-Nuts” on the shelves.

Grocery sales weren’t enough to satisfy eager consumers, but Krispy Kreme did not put stores on the ground in the New Orleans area until the year 2000. The first location opened on December 1 at Clearview Parkway and West Metairie Avenue, and it’s still there.

“A national emblem of indulgence is coming home,” the Times-Picayune story began.

Coming home? Well, Krispy Kreme has always acknowledged that the original inventor of its recipe was…a New Orleanian!

The Nashville Tennessean newspaper, in a 1974 obituary for Krispy Kreme founding family member Lewis Rudolph, recounted that Rudolph grew up on the family farm near Paducah, Kentucky. In the early 1930s, the father of the family, Plumie Rudolph, ran a general store in Paducah. Plumie’s brother-in-law Ishmael Armstrong, and his son Vernon Rudolph began making and selling yeast-raised doughnuts for the store  “following a recipe from a New Orleans chef.”

Lewis Rudolph, Vernon’s younger brother, dropped out of high school to help make doughnuts. Armstrong left the company, the doughnut business expanded, and by 1937 the brand was named Krispy Kreme. It then expanded to Atlanta and Nashville, and established in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1937.

In various versions of the story, the “New Orleans chef” sold his unsuccessful store in Paducah to the Rudolph brothers and added the doughnut recipe as lagniappe. The chef’s name was supposedly Joseph LeBeau.

In another version of the story, told in 2003 to The Duke Chronicle college newspaper reporter/student Ruth Carlitz, there was no Joseph LeBeau in Paducah, but there was a chef from New Orleans named Joseph LeBoeuf cooking on a boat on the Ohio River. Carver Rudolph, son of Krispy Kreme founder Vernon, related that Krispy Kreme was researching its origins in 1997 and a local historian discovered Leboeuf, but by then, he had died.

Carver Rudolph also related what the fabled recipe included: “fluffed egg whites, mashed potatoes, sugar, shortening and skim milk … chilled and mixed with flour and then fried and covered in glaze.”

Krispy Kreme made with potatoes? Well, who knows? That’s a corporate secret.

As for LeBoeuf, no Joseph appeared in city directories from 1900 to 1930, but there was a Frank LeBoeuf in the 1920s and 30s who had a restaurant, once located on Front Street near the river. Perhaps the doughnut maker was a relative.

If so, he created a winner. Krispy Kreme grew from a regional chain to an international presence. After being sold to Beatrice Foods, and then being bought back by franchisees, Krispy Kreme was sold in 2016 to German investment firm JAB Beech for $1.36 billion.

Now that leaves a sweet taste!


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