A Sweet Midnight Snack: Donut Wheel
How a 24/7 business runs in a quiet city like Cupertino
Opening the glass door into Donut Wheel, a head of a deer, large enough to cover the wall it’s plastered on, greets customers as they walk towards an employee behind a display of donuts. Depending on the time of the day, the four booths along the windows of the store are filled with senior citizens reading the daily newspaper or students trying to cram in a few more hours of studying.
Located on De Anza Boulevard right across the street from numerous Apple offices, Donut Wheel has been running since 1978. Unlike franchise competitors like Krispy-Kreme, it is a small business open 24/7 and offers a variety delicacies, including both ice cream and donuts.
Store manager Na Ky has been working at the store since 2012, getting involved after filling in shifts for her godbrother, who makes most of the donuts in the evening. According to Ky, the store’s regular customers are senior citizens, students or Apple employees.
“During the day, we have a lot of Apple employees and our other regulars that have been coming for a long time, but in the night we have students because we are open 24/7,” Ky said. “Some older folks come here in the night if they have trouble sleeping which is rare but still happens.”
Ky believes the store caters to individuals better than other establishments in Cupertino, as their hours provide nightlife to the mostly quiet city. According to Ky, this is an advantage because kids can stay out of trouble in the night and go to Donut Wheel if they want to study or simply hangout with friends.
Down the road from Donut Wheel, Lawson Middle School (LMS) sits within a 5 minute walking distance from the shop. Sophomore Daleep Dhami, a LMS alumni, explains that Donut Wheel is a daily stop on the way to and from school for many students in the middle school. Dhami contributes the appeal to Donut Wheel as it is the closest source of food to LMS, alike with what Seven Eleven is for MVHS students.
Dhami further explains that the ambiance Donut Wheel brings to the area connect with its long relationship it has with the community, and its welcoming environment for daily customers.
“It’s local and nearby, and it’s not some big brand company like Krispy-Kreme,” Dhami said. “You get along really well with the people there… We could have actual conversations with [the employees] since they always remember us.”
LMS alumni Junior Aryan Kashyap explains that the reason behind Donut Wheel’s success is the nostalgic atmosphere it provides its longtime customers and its excellent customer service, rather than the location. Often going back with friends after playing basketball at LMS, Kashyap appreciates the feeling biting into their donuts brings him.
“We go there so often that I have a tab there and they let me pay for it later if [we] didn’t have the exact amount,” Kashyap said.” [The taste of the donuts is] nostalgic mostly. It’s a place we always used to go to and that’s 80% of the taste every time I eat there.”
According to Ky, many residents in town have an emotional attachment to the store, which has lead to some customers giving gifts to the establishment, like a Simpsons doll that sits above a refrigerator.
“The Simpsons doll, as far I know, is from one of our customers who used to help out with the store and he moved out to Santa Cruz,” Ky said. “Ten years ago, he put that up there and that is something that attracts a lot of attention.”
Ky explains that Donut Wheel has ingrained itself into the Cupertino culture because of how long it has been in the area and the variety of people that have come in over the years.
“Donut Wheel has been here since 1978, and a lot of customers know this place since that time,” Ky said. “It’s become a type of landmark and even though [some customers] move away, out of town or out of state, they always make the trip to come in because of the rich history this store has.”