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As far as chains go, Krispy Kreme is just about impossible to dislike. Forged largely on the back of a single item — the legendary Original Glazed Doughnut — the chain has managed to retain its cult-like following even though it has more than 1,000 locations worldwide. But even if it’s physically impossible for you to pass up a visit when the “hot light” is on, we bet that there’s a lot you didn’t know about this popular doughnut chain.
According to one report, Vernon’s uncle Ishmael Armstrong purchased the recipe for the legendary Original Glazed yeast-raised doughnut from a French chef in New Orleans. In another (on the Krispy Kreme site), Vernon Rudolph was the one who purchased it. In a third, Vernon inherited the recipe from a Paducah doughnut shop owner named Joe Lebeau. In 1999, descendant Carver Rudolph went to Paducah to get to the bottom of the mystery, and discovered that Ishmael had most likely been given the recipe by an Ohio River barge cook named Joe LeBoeuf, who passed away just 10 months before Carver’s arrival.
Vernon Rudolph was a devoted Camel cigarette smoker, so when he was thinking about where to open his first location, his decision was influenced by the fact that the highly-successful Camel was headquartered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
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In the beginning, hot doughnuts weren’t sold throughout the day; like at most bakeries, all the cooking was done in the early morning, so customers who wanted a hot doughnut had to arrive between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m.
The first Krispy Kreme in Salem was only a production kitchen to fry doughnuts for sale at local groceries and convenience stores. The scent emanating from the building was so intoxicating, however, that hungry passers-by would duck their heads in during those late-night hours and ask to buy doughnuts right then and there. Vernon took the hint, and cut a hole in the building’s wall to sell doughnuts from.
All stores sold doughnuts made on-premises until 1989, when the first retail-only location was opened on High Point Road in Greensboro, North Carolina. Selling premade doughnuts upset a lot of loyal devotees, and continues to this day.
Rapid expansion was the name of the game in the early 2000s after its April 2000 IPO, but by 2004 it became obvious that the company’s executives had decided to expand far too rapidly when it suffered its first loss as a publicly-traded company. While the chain attempted to explain it away by blaming the low-carb craze, rival Dunkin’ Donuts wasn’t affected by the trend, and analysts instead blamed the loss on flooding markets with locations that ended up competing with each other, and selling doughnuts at gas stations and convenience stores, which also took away franchise market share.
In an ill-fated attempt to take the company into the future, in 2003 Krispy Kreme tested selling doughnuts directly through car windows and even sunroofs at a busy intersection in Mountain View, California, with customers paying wirelessly. Needless to say, the pilot project failed
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The shop opened on February 24, 2015, and the first customer won a dozen free doughnuts every week for a year.
The quest for palm oil has been blamed for rainforest depletion, and in 2014 the chain pledged to use only sustainable and responsibly-sourced palm oil. By the end of 2016 it pledges that the vast majority, if not all, of its palm oil will be from “plantations that adhere to the principles for protecting forests, peat lands of any depth, and no exploitation of communities and workers.”
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While it has no official affiliation with the company, every year since 2004 in Raleigh there’s been a charity event in which participants run 2.5 miles to a Krispy Kreme, eat a dozen doughnuts (totaling about 2,400 calories), and then run the 2.5 miles back to the finish line. The race has raised more than $750,000 for the North Carolina Children’s Hospital to date, and draws on average about 65,000 runners annually. Sadly, during this year’s race, which was held last month, a 58-year old participant died of a heart attack shortly after the race began.