Krispy Kreme – History of a Hometown Doughnut

Krispy Kreme, the doughnuts we southerners know and love, opened its first store in Paris, France in December of 2023. Even in the land of delightful bakeries and patisseries, there were several people in line on a Tuesday night…the night before the shop’s planned opening, keen to get their hands on the iconic boxes of glazed, fried dough that Americans have been enjoying since the 1930s. When the Paris Krispy Kreme opened its doors at 8:00 am on Wednesday morning, about 400 customers had lined up on the sidewalk outside. The first 10 people in line won a year’s supply of free doughnuts! I wouldn’t be opposed to camping out for that kind of deal. 

But, going back to the beginning…the delicious doughnuts were just starting out when Vernon Rudolph, a businessman from Paducah, Kentucky purchased a secret recipe for yeast-raised doughnuts from a New Orleans French chef, rented a building in what is now historic Old Salem in Winston-Salem and began selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts on July 13, 1937 to local grocery stores. It was only a matter of time before the delicious smell of the baking doughnuts enticed nearby customers to head directly to Rudolph’s store. Picturing a potential business opportunity, Rudolph cut a hole in the wall of his bakery and began to sell the hot doughnuts directly to walk-up customers. It is said that Vernon chose Winston-Salem as the location for his doughnut business because of Camel cigarettes. He figured a town with a company producing a nationally advertised product had to be a good bet! 

Thus began Vernon Rudolph’s business venture that would begin as a small doughnut shop and grow beyond his wildest imagination into a corporation which he led until his death in 1973.  

Rudolph believed in producing only doughnuts of high quality, and those were the only ones that were ever sold. His belief (as well as the mouth-watering doughnuts he produced) endeared them to the people of Winston-Salem. What also made an impact on the patrons of Winston Salem (and their taste buds) was marveling at the doughnut production that occurred in the store’s front window and the free samples given away in the evenings. 

By the 40s and 50s, there was a small chain of stores, mostly family owned franchises. They all used the Krispy Kreme recipe, and each store made its doughnuts from scratch. Rudolph and Krispy Kreme felt that the doughnuts were always good but not always consistent. For this reason, Krispy Kreme built a mix plant and developed a distribution system that aimed to deliver perfect dry doughnut mix to each Krispy Kreme store. It was during this time that Rudolph and his equipment engineers developed and built Krispy Kreme’s proprietary doughnut making equipment. They continued to focus on improving the processes of the stores and, with hard work and a commitment to quality and consistency, Krispy Kreme established itself as a company that was at the top of its field and beloved by its customers. In June of 1947, the Krispy Kreme Corporation was formed. 

Throughout the 60s and 70s, Krispy Kreme saw steady growth throughout the southeast United States and began expanding outside of its traditional roots. The design of the stores became consistent including the trademark green tile roofs and “heritage” road signs. These signature features helped brand the Krispy Kreme chain as stores opened outside of the southeastern region. Vernon Rudolph died in 1973, and growth slowed while the company was reorganized for sale to Beatrice Foods Company in 1976.

In the early 80s, a small group of early franchisees decided to buy Krispy Kreme back from Beatrice Foods. They initiated a renewed focus on the hot doughnut experience and began to expand outside the southeast US. Stores in New York City and California were opened in the 90s, and national expansion was well underway. Krispy Kreme turned 60 years old in 1997 and was officially recognized as a 20th century American icon which included a donation of company artifacts to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

Krispy Kreme held an initial public offering of common stock in April 2000. It opened the first international store in Canada near Toronto in December 2001. The first stores outside North America opened in Sydney, Australia and in London, England in 2003. Since then, Krispy Kreme has opened more than 700 stores in Asia, Mexico, the Middle East, Puerto Rico and Turkey. 

Although its growth extends internationally and you can now find Krispy Kreme doughnuts almost anywhere you go in the south, it still has that warm, homey feeling when you enter a shop and watch the doughnuts being made. It’s still exciting to drive by and see the “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign lit up.  

Vernon Rudolph and his Krispy Kreme doughnuts are an excellent example of the entrepreneurial spirit that flourished in North Carolina despite the Great Depression. And, I’m sure he would be wowed and proud of the course things have taken in the past 50 years since he passed the torch.


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