American “Pie”

What’s big and round and has America written all over it?

Nope, not apple pie.

I’m talking BIG.  REALLY BIG.  Like 32.5 feet in diameter.

In case you haven’t already guessed…

The Famous Randy's Donuts

The well-known Los Angeles landmark — a giant donut perched atop the roadside shack that is now Randy’s Donuts — has been drawing the likes of locals, tourists and, of course, Hollywood for decades.

Designed by Henry J. Goodwin and built in 1953, the donut shop was originally the second of ten locations of the Big Donut Drive-In chain.  Like the famous Tail o’ the Pup hot dog stand in Los Angeles (built in 1946 and currently awaiting its second relocation), it is a prime example of the kitschy “programmatic architecture” that became popular in the first half of the 20th century.  The “onomatopoeia,” if you will, of building construction, the term is used to describe shops and restaurants built to resemble the goods they sold — an architectural gimmick to draw in the throngs of people riding the explosive wave of American automobile culture.

Tail O' The Pup (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

While many of these novelty buildings have fallen prey to demolition, this particular one continues to thrive well into the 21st century.  After changing hands several times and acquiring the name “Randy’s Donuts,” the shop was purchased in 1978 by brothers Larry and Ron Weintraub, who have been churning out the sugary treats ever since.

Today, Randy’s Donuts is recognized on a global scale.  Not only is the colossal donut structure in close proximity to LAX (the world’s 6th busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic), it has also made multiple pop culture cameo appearances.  Notable examples include the films Earth Girls Are Easy and Coming to America, as well as Randy Newman’s music video for his 1980s ode to the City of Angels, “I Love LA.”  (Watch this and travel back in time.)

It is also the cover image for the critically acclaimed Time Out Los Angeles city guide – a copy of which happens to have a home on my bedside table.  Glancing at it the other day, I thought how curious it was that I had yet to sample the doughy deliciousness and snap a shot of the iconic building.

There are at least two reasons for that.

The first is simple:  I love donuts.

While in recent years I’ve traded in pizza for quinoa and Mr. Goodbar for organic dark chocolate, donuts will always occupy a special place in my palate and heart.

The passage of more than two decades has done nothing to diminish the thrill of crowding around the kitchen table with my brother and cousins, as my Grandma Helen and Grandpa Phil strolled in the door, sporting grand smiles and a paper box stuffed with glazed, powdered and chocolate frosted circles of sweetness.

The second reason may be a bit quirkier.

I have an obsession with Americana.  Something tells me that, in a past life, I cruised down Route 66 in a turquoise and chrome convertible, weaving through red desert mesas under the azure western sky.  Just ask my brother, Justin; not a day passed on our cross-country road trip when I didn’t drag him to Graceland, Cadillac Ranch or the Big Texan.

So how was it that Randy’s Donuts  — a mere 7.2 miles from my front door — was sure to serve up a dose of both guilty pleasures, and I had yet to indulge?

Well … as they say, timing is everything.

And July 4th was just around the corner.  What better way to celebrate American independence, I thought, than to stuff myself with thousands of calories at a tourist attraction?

As the afternoon sun beat out the morning fog this past Saturday, I visually shape-shifted my 2005 Subaru Outback into a 1957 Chevy Bel Air and headed towards Randy’s Donuts.

Located at the intersection of Manchester and La Cienega Boulevards in Inglewood, Randy’s Donuts is open 24 hours a day and boasts both drive-thru and walk-up window options.  Though the former seemed more in the spirit of the era that spawned such a spectacle, the promise of warm sun on my face was too enticing.

After taking some requisite photos, I practically skipped to the menu to decide what it would be.  Apple fritter?  Chocolate glazed?  Cinnamon?  After a few moments of indecision — I wanted them all — I decided to go with the sugar-glazed classic, a mere 70 cents.

As I handed the cheery clerk a dollar bill, and she in turn placed in my palm a donut that seemed nearly as big as the replica towering over us, I started to salivate.

As I stepped away, I took my first bite.  It was positively scrumptious.

And then I did what any good American does.  I ate the whole thing.



Filed under Architecture, Food, Landmarks

74 responses to “American “Pie”

  1. Yum! I drive by this place on the way to the airport and I’m always curious about it, but have never been. I’m not sure donuts need a place in my palate or on my thighs, but I might have to give this place a try.

  2. Can’t believe you only bought one donut! I would have gotten at least a half dozen…probably a dozen though. Gotta try ’em all!

    • If the sun ever comes out, it’s bathing suit season:) I’ll no doubt be heading back to try more in a couple of months!

      • You’re looking pretty good already! A half dozen would last a week!

      • There is/was frozen donuts that can be bought in boxes at the groceries. I used to eat them all the time when I was growing up. Microwave ’em nice and hot and they are some of the best donuts I’ve ever had. I haven’t had them in years though, don’t recall who makes them.

    • I wonder if you can freeze donuts?

      • Thanks, prafeston:)

        And frozen donuts? Why not? I mean, I’m sure they wouldn’t taste as delicious as those fresh out of the oven, but really, how bad could they be?

        I say this because when I was in college, 2500 miles away from home in NYC, my parents used to send me frozen H&H bagels during exams. They may not have been technically fresh, but they were fantastic, nonetheless.

      • Barry Mañana

        Not sure – though I’ve definitely frozen my buns a few times!

  3. Great post! Reminds me of The Simpsons when Homer eats the fake one on top of the donut place. Love the pics too.

    • Thanks, Dennis! I must have missed that episode of The Simpsons…will search for it on youtube.

      I just had a quick look at your writing, and LOVE the dialogue. Am looking forward to reading more.

      Have a fantastic day!

  4. I wanr to ate Donut in picture.Um Um Um…

  5. That doughnut looks delicious. I saw a TV program about a doughnuteria that specializes in a maple and bacon doughnut, though I don’t think it is the same place you visited. There’s nothing quite like a hot, fresh doughnut, especially if it’s Boston Cream or Barbarian Cream, my favorite flavors.

    The Codger

    • Maple and bacon donut? That seems so wrong…yet so right. WOW.

      Barbarian Cream? I’ve never heard of that one. I’ll put that one on the “to do” list. Thanks for the recommendation!

      • I’m pretty sure they meant Bavarian Cream…haha. Barbarian. That’s funny! I wouldn’t eat anything filled with the cream of a Barbarian!

  6. Fantastic looking donut, even better looking necklace! Very stylish Ms. Gypsy!

  7. Looks tempting. How I wish they had branches near my area so I can indulge myself on that delicacy.

  8. Claudia Beltran

    Do they deliever to La Paz, Mexico?
    Im drinking my coffee reading your article. I need to have a bite of that. 🙂
    Love it. xoxoxo

  9. Catherine333

    Great post! And that doughnut looks delicious!

  10. Congrats on getting ‘freshly pressed’.
    I clicked on this to find out what another gypsy was up to in this world… only to realize that I drove past Randy’s on my way out of LA back to Vancouver last week. How random! So, I’m thinking it’ll be a round of assorted from my local Tim Horton’s donut shop for office coffee break today. See how you’ve inspired? 🙂

    • Gypsy solidarity! Love it.

      Too bad you missed Randy’s…but after spending many summers up in Canada, I know Tim Horton’s certainly satiates.

      Thanks so much for the congrats, by the way.

  11. I’ve been to California twice now. I want a Randy’s donut. And I want an In & Out burger. I’ve had neither. I feel like I’ve been cheated on my west coast travels.

  12. I don’t even like donuts that much and I now have to make a trip to my local Krispy Kreme. Excellent post!

  13. I love Randy’s. Craving a donut now. Thanks.

  14. After reading this drooling post- gosh how I want the doughnuts of my youth from Lone Star, but now I live in DD land of dry, coffee laden, and now actually no sugar at all in my life…I might have to drive clear across the country for this one!

  15. Hmmm, I’ve been through LA a couple of times and I don’t remember seeing the big donut (gulp!) I wonder if it was that I wasn’t looking for it… or maybe some other reason.

    I wonder if the donuts there are as good as donuts made at Mom & Pop shops around America. 😛

    With Love and Gratitude,

    The Intentional Sage

    • Now THAT’s an idea — a road trip/donut taste-testing odyssey! The quest for the perfect donut…

      Next time you’re in town, definitely check Randy’s Donuts out.

      What beautiful tales you tell, by the way. I look forward to reading more!

  16. Pingback: American “Pie” (via the local gypsy) « Freshly Pressed!

  17. Love the photo of the icon donut juxtaposed with the real thing.Congrats on being FP today. – MoSop

  18. Songbird

    I ol have on guestion: How could you only buy one?!?! I would’ve probably bought half a dozen, and made myself sick in the process…lol.

    • It’s a Pavlovian response at this point…I’ve made myself sick so many times on donuts, cookies, cakes, etc. that — sometimes — I actually know when to say “just one.” 🙂

      I look forward to reading more about music on your blog!

  19. Only 70 cents for that giant donut in LA?? Damn you Krispy Kreme and your delicious, overpriced treats!

    I’m not sure if it quite fits the definition of “onomatopoeia,” but one of my favourite Seattle landmarks is the Elephant Car Wash. It’s not exactly a car being washed, but it’s still adorable. 🙂

    Also hard to beat the Frozen Banana Stand in Arrested Development:


    • Thanks, Natina, for sharing those. The elephant car wash is indeed adorable, and the war of the banana stands remind me of West Bank Story — a brilliant short about love, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and competing falafel stands 🙂

      Congratulations, too, on starting your blog!

  20. theguys123

    Dang I’m going to have to make a trip to the local bakery!

  21. Barry Mañana

    For some unfathomable reason we prefer our donuts sans holes in the UK.

    I’m just wondering if when Americans die they get to go to donut heaven where they can eat all the missing middle bits? 🙂

  22. mledwell

    Pretty much the american dream is what we’re all after,even as an illegal migrant you come here to get a piece of the pie…Or am I missing the point again?

  23. glad you got fp! lived in LA for a while, but never had these…will make sure to stop by in Sept.

  24. Pingback: American “Pie” « Realidad Alternativa

  25. Not too many can resist a fresh, hot doughnut. I liked your article.

  26. Mmmm, that sounds super delicious! My favorite donuts, ever, were at a place you couldn’t get that donut again and it was super awesome. My mom wanted to get these donuts being made on the spot at this fair by some fire fighters to raise money. The donuts were FRESH, just made, still hot, super amazing. Best. Donut. Ever. I wish I could have that every day but like you said about bathing suite season that sooo wouldn’t be happening.

  27. great post I love doughnuts!

  28. That donut looks tasty lol (greedy, I know!)

  29. Mom

    This is hysterical! You certainly hit a nerve with that close up of a SCRUMPTIOUS donut. You should do cupcakes, cookies cakes, etc. EVERYONE will book trips to CA!!

    Love the reference to Gramdma and Grandpa.

    • Ha! Maybe partner up with the California Board of Tourism, and hit every bakery in LA county?

      And then, after all that, start a blog on “How to Lose the 25 lbs I Gained Writing That Other Blog?” 🙂

  30. The Weddington Adventures

    interesting! great stuff. keep in touch:)

  31. ZZMike – Thanks for the kind words. Checked out your site. Taking into account everything there, combined with your comments here…we agree on things 100%.

  32. damn, that donut looks good…really takes me back to the sugar days! love how you’re mixing it up on the adventure tip. xo

  33. Legendary post, I enjoy this spectacular site,I found you along freshly pressed!

    Please do check my personal fascinating training blog.

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