Sharon Vilsack pulled into a San Clemente strip mall on a recent morning to perform one of Southern California’s most quintessential rituals — picking a pink box of doughnuts to share.
She chose carefully: an old fashioned, plenty of glazed, a few sprinkles, and a puffy maple bar, all tucked neatly into that familiar container that so often blends into the background of daily life here.
“I’m like one of Pavlov’s dogs when I see a pink box,” said Vilsack, 29, outside Rose Donuts & Cafe. “My mouth starts watering because I know what’s inside.”
The pink box is a distinctly regional tradition, one so ingrained it often requires an outsider to notice. The Northeast has Dunkin’ Donuts and its neon orange and pink box. The South has Krispy Kreme and its polka dot box. But come to Los Angeles and it’s the no-frills pink box, with signature grease marks, that commands counter space in our offices, waiting rooms and police stations.
“Anytime you see a movie or sitcom set in New York and a pink doughnut box appears, you know it obviously took place in L.A.,” says Peter Yen of Santa Ana Packaging, a local manufacturer of the carnation-pink containers that cost about a dime each.
But unlike New York’s celebrated Grecian coffee cups, the pink box has endured with little fanfare; its origins something of a mystery.
One thing is certain, though, the pink box phenomenon could only happen here. Southern California is the undisputed epicenter of the doughnut world — a testament to our love affair with junk food you can handle behind a steering wheel. L.A. County alone has at least 680 doughnut shops, according to Yelp, about 200 more than New York City and double the number in Chicago’s Cook County.