Red’s Donuts owner Matthew O’Donnell got a call a few months ago from a woman asking if he would ship a dozen coconut-sprinkled donuts to Detroit for her brother’s 60th birthday. The woman explained he was stationed in Monterey 40 years ago and the only thing he talked about was donuts from Red’s. O’Donnell sent them by overnight air.
This wasn’t the first time he has been asked to ship donuts around the country. That type of long-range loyalty is a major reason O’Donnell and his sister, Kathy Saunders, are celebrating 60 years at their Alvarado Street location this Monday, March 15. Their father, Herman “Red” O’Donnell, opened the Monterey Red’s in 1950. The Seaside location – originally in University Plaza – opened in 1964 and moved to its current location on Fremont Boulevard in 1986.
Six decades after the debut donut, Red’s is still cooking, at the rate of 300 dozen donuts every day, at their Seaside location. The assorted treats then go out all over the Peninsula: to cafés, grocery stores, schools and the Monterey shop.
“My favorite donut has always been the glazed, especially when it’s fresh and hot,” O’Donnell says. “Though my doctor keeps telling me to stop eating them.”
O’Donnell and Saunders sit at window chairs in the Seaside Red’s. They recall growing up with three siblings and parents who owned a sweet eatery.
“We were the most popular kids growing up,” O’Donnell says with a child-like laugh. “All the other kids at San Carlos school said how lucky we were to go to a donut shop after school.”
O’Donnell would follow his dad around while he worked, wanting to know every part of the process. “I used to ask all kinds of questions: ‘What’re you doing now? What’re you doing now?’ He would calmly look down at me and say, ‘Just watch, Matt, you’ll see.’”
“Women would get in arguments over who was in line first. Everyone wanted those chocolate cake donuts.”
He pauses, then turns to his sister. “I was thinking about that the other day,” he says. “How I used to ask Dad all those questions, and he must have enjoyed working with all us kids.”
“We didn’t think we would make it this far,” she replies. “But here we are. We’re like the neighborhood bar, but with donuts and coffee. Everyone comes here.”
• • •
It is early morning on Alvarado Street. A dozen cracked, blue stools sit firmly under a fading, bright yellow vinyl countertop. Old photos of Red O’Donnell hang on the wall, slightly tilted. About 20 donut varieties glisten plumply in the display case.
Evelyn Rosales has been serving regulars here for 17 years and knows most customers by name.
“Come to get your donut fix?” she asks an elderly woman who wanders in.
“I need coffee,” the woman says.
“Yeah… you need coffee!”
A few minutes later, an older gentleman – who has been sitting at the far end of the counter downing two chocolate donuts and black coffee – speaks up.
“Can I get two more glazed chocolate?” he asks.
“At this rate, I’m not going to have any left for the 10:30am crew!” Rosales jokes.
She claims it is this friendly atmosphere that has sustained the morning donut hangout for so long.
“This place is about passing down traditions. Many generations have come through here. It’s a comfortable place,” she says.
Sophie Muller agrees, and she would know. She worked behind the counter in Monterey for 37 years. Now retired, she reminisces about her long-time job.
“It was great. I met so many people there who are still good friends of mine,” she says, laughing. “It was small, but just super friendly. It was like making a new friend everyday.”
She still marvels at how people would check back just to see if it was still there.
“Sometimes the service men from the Presidio would go overseas and, years later, they would come back to Monterey just to see if Red’s was still there.”
She also remembers the 25th anniversary in 1975. They had a dozen chocolate cake donuts for $0.90.
“Women would get in arguments over who was in line first,” Muller says. “Because everyone wanted those chocolate cake donuts.”
Prices have changed a bit since 1950. Then, a glazed donut sold for a nickel and a dozen could be had for 50 cents. Now, a single donut is 70 cents, while a dozen costs $7. For the anniversary date (March 15), O’Donnell is cutting that dozen down to $3.
Regardless of price, the integrity of Red’s Donuts has not changed. Sitting in the Seaside shop, O’Donnell explains how, like the donuts, their preparation methods are old-fashioned: No machinery. Each wad of dough is hand-rolled and cut into the shape.
Suddenly he stops. “Frank!” he yells at a customer. “Don’t start any trouble now or you’ll have to go sit down at the other end of the counter!”
The donut process, he explains, is a long one which starts at 4pm, preparing glazes and mix, and they cook through the night. Early risers can pick up a fresh donut as early as 4am in Seaside.
And that’s the donut hole truth.