Monterey Sweet Spot
Red’s Donuts takes the cake as the local’s morning hangout.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Inside Red’s Donuts on Monterey’s Alvarado Street, cake donuts with bright jewel-colored sprinkles and glazed, golden rings of dough sit behind a glass case like precious collectibles at a jeweler’s store. Behind the counter, frizzy-haired manager Evelyn Rosales moves quickly in the small space while effortlessly bantering with a small crowd of regulars seated behind a long sunflower yellow counter.
Possibly fueled by coffee and sugar, the repartee between Rosales and her customers is constant and sometimes bawdy.
“He needs to get a grip,” Rosales says to a patron about a mutual acquaintance.
“I got something he can get a grip on,” the customer fires back, laughing.
Another patron warns the crowd that an aggressive female parking officer is working today. “Don’t park anywhere too long,” he says before leaving.
Red’s has the same sort of convivial atmosphere that is normally found in the best of bars. You have got unique conversations—including one that I witnessed about hot dog condiments—a handful of regulars and a hearty sense of camaraderie.
Jack McKelvey, a customer who has been coming to this donut shop since 1951, agrees. McKelvey, who likes plain cake and old-fashioned donuts, knows bars. He says he is the oldest bartender in Monterey—the 77 year old works at The Crown & Anchor—and has served drinks at former local haunts like The Player’s Club and The Keg.
“It’s a good local hangout without liquor,” he says of Red’s. “It’s a breakfast Cheers.”
Wearing a bright yellow collared shirt under a jacket—all the customers seem to sport yellow at Red’s—McKelvey believes that hanging out at the donut store helps him catch up on local gossip and current events. “I just sit here and listen to what everyone else says, and then I can use some of it at work,” he remarks.
McKelvey confesses how much he is attached to this place. “I shouldn’t have this,” he says, motioning to a half-eaten donut and a cup of coffee. “I’m a diabetic. My most important thing in the world is coming here and having a cup of coffee.”
Down the bar, 92-year-old Doc Chandler and his friend Jerry MacKenzie are part of Red’s 10am crew—there is also an 8am group of regulars. Chandler, a former colonel and radiologist dressed in a yellow shirt and jacket, tells me why he has come here almost every day for the past 13 years.
“It’s a throwback to another age, and it’s fun,” he says. “The help is very congenial, and they don’t throw us out.”
Meanwhile, facing the yellow wall behind the service area adorned with everything from framed paintings of clowns to old black-and-white photos of Monterey’s waterfront, Gaspare Aliotti remembers the first time he looked inside of Red’s. While in line for a Saturday matinee at the State Theatre, Aliotti, who was 10 years old at the time, saw Herman “Red” O’Donnell dropping dough in a copper pot through the shop’s window.
O’Donnell opened Red’s on March 15, 1950, after he purchased the donut store across the street from his brother’s shoe store. According to Mary Opdyke, O’Donnell’s daughter, her father bought the storefront before knowing the tiniest bit about making the sugary breakfast food. Opdyke says that the former owner of the donut shop gave O’Donnell a crash course in making donuts one evening before handing over the keys.
O’Donnell must have learned a heck of a lot about donuts during the course of that one night, because Red’s is still making everything from buttermilk donuts to maple bars. Red’s made donuts at the Alvarado location until 1967, when the pastry making facilities moved to Seaside at Olympia Plaza. In 1985, the production facility moved into the location where it resides now, 1646 Fremont St. in Seaside.
Red’s in Seaside churns out about 300 dozen doughnuts a day, Opdyke says. Some are sold at the Seaside and Monterey stores, while others are shipped countywide in two trucks.
Red’s in Monterey is one of a handful of longtime businesses still located on Alvarado Street. With artifacts like a large black Monterey Savings & Loan wall clock mounted on a far wall, walking into Red’s feels like passing through a portal to another time. The longtime locals talk fondly of Monterey’s past and pass on important words of wisdom to younger generations.
I realize firsthand how much one can learn from Red’s regulars when I return to my car after spending a couple hours in the donut store. Staring at the parking ticket on my windshield, I think that maybe I should have heeded the earlier advice concerning the parking lady.