Randy's Donuts Is About To Get A Hole Lot Bigger
In October 2014, Mark Kelegian got lucky. Really lucky.
He was browsing BizBuySell.com, a public business sales website, when he stumbled across a listing for an unnamed restaurant. There were no details except that it was well-known and originally built in the 1960s.
Kelegian, a retired lawyer, assumed it was one of L.A.'s old school Jewish deli's, maybe Canter's or Langer's. He dialed the number on the listing and a young broker picked up. She said the mystery restaurant was Randy's, the 24-hour drive-through donut shop that also happens to be one of the most recognizable landmarks in Los Angeles.
He bought it on the spot. At $2 million, it was a steal.
For the next three months, Kelegian says his office received over 100 phone calls from angry investors.
"Everyone in L.A. wanted to buy Randy's first," he says. "Most of the calls went something like, 'Son of a bitch!'"
Kelegian says that for years, various people had been telling Larry and Ron Weintraub, the two brothers who owned the shop, come to us first if you ever want to sell. Had the Weintraubs held a bidding war, they would have found plenty of eager buyers with deep pockets. (Maybe Irving Azoff would have wanted to add to his portfolio of classic L.A. restaurants?) They almost certainly would've made more than $2 million, much more. But for whatever reason, they decided to bury their donut goldmine as a nearly anonymous listing on the internet.
Kelegian just happened to be the prospector who found it.
Randy's owners claim the drive-through is "the most recognized and iconic donut shop in the world," and they're probably right.
Reportedly designed by Henry J. Goodwin, the giant donut is 32.5 feet tall and is often the first thing passengers recognize as their planes descend into LAX.
The oversized pastry has made cameos in Mars Attacks, Coming to America and Breathless. Tony Stark sits in its hole in a memorable scene from Iron Man 2, a dude in a yellow apron gets down with it in Justin Timberlake's music video "Can't Stop The Feeling" and in a Simpsons episode called "Attack of the 50 Foot Eyesores," Homer steals a concrete donut from a Springfield fast food joint that seems like a combo of Randy's and Bob's Big Boy.
When the shop opened in 1953 as the second location of Big Donut Drive-In, it became one of L.A.'s weirdest and most literally shaped buildings -- and that's saying a lot in a city with a rich history of programmatic architecture. The Big Donut Drive-In chain, owned by donut salesman Russell C. Wendell, expanded to 10 locations. They all featured outrageously large donut statues.
Today, five Big Donut locations still stand, although their names have changed. They including Kindle's Donuts in South L.A. (the first location in the chain), Donut King II in Gardena, Dale's Donuts in Compton, Bellflower Bagels in Bellflower and, of course, Randy's.
In 1976, when Wendell was selling off the individual stores, Robert Eskow bought two of them, including the La Cienega/Manchester location. Eskow renamed them "Randy's Donuts and Sandwiches" after his son and, in 1978, he sold the shop near LAX to his cousins, Ron and Larry Weintraub.
The Weintraubs kept the name and it stood as the only Randy's location until 2017, when Kelegian began opening new outposts. Randy's currently has three shops -- in Hollywood, El Segundo and the Westfield Century City mall -- in addition to its flagship.
Now in the first wave of franchising the business, Kelegian has half a dozen new locations in the pipeline. Inland Empire, Orange County, downtown L.A., Pasadena, Santa Monica -- basically, every zip code in Southern California is about to become part of the Randy's donut empire. Kelegian also plans to franchise out of state but he has a bigger goal: world domination, or in business parlance, "international expansion."
Plans are in the works to open Randy's in South Korea and the Philippines. The South Korean location will be run by a family that operates more than a thousand chicken restaurants, Kelegian says. In Manilla, they're planning to build an almost-to-scale replica of the original, complete with the giant donut.
Why these two countries? "Donuts are very popular in the Asian market," Kelegian says. He's also eyeing opportunities in the Middle East.
Keligian, who lives in Newport Beach, was an attorney for 30 years before retiring. He's also in the casino business. Along with his brother and father, he owns the Oceans 11 Casino in Oceanside, Crystal Casino in Compton, and Commerce Casino in (you guessed it) Commerce, among others.
He bought Randy's with money from his personal bank account and is self-funding the expansion in the hopes that his two daughters will take over. His eldest, Nicolette, is currently Randy's vice president, while his other daughter works at Shake Shack's corporate office in New York, although she has a job waiting for her at home, should she choose to return to California.
The family has no plans to change the classic ingredients -- Kelegian claims it's the flour that makes the donuts so good -- or the prices.
"You can still get a classic glazed donut for $1.15," Kelegian says. "That's what separates us from the artisanal donuts around the city."
The new Randy's locations will have an updated coffee menu, with iced drinks and espresso, as well as Randy's swag, like a limited edition store-themed shoe, made by Toms.
And, of course, most locations will feature the signature rooftop donut.
"All the locations where we can't put a giant donut on the roof, we're gonna put a giant donut somewhere," Kelegian says.
At the forthcoming La Habra location, due to city restrictions about gargantuan food-shaped statues being placed on rooftops, the trademark treat will live on the ground, with a bench that will allow visitors to pose inside the hole.
Kelegian says the donut on top of the Downey location, which is expected to open in June, will look the same as the one on the original shop but it won't be quite as big, coming in at 26 feet instead of 32.
"Out of respect for Inglewood," he says, "I'll never build a larger donut that the original."
Correction: A previous version of this story listed the price of a glazed donut as $1.50. It's actually $1.15. LAist regrets the error.