Bill Lynch: Sonoma doughnuts, the ‘hole’ shocking story
The history of doughnuts in Sonoma Valley starting rolling around in my head recently after a news story in the Index-Tribune announced that Marisa Wondolleck is opening her Dirty Girl Donuts shop in the old Subway sandwich space on Broadway across from Sonoma Valley High School. I remember that a doughnut shop existed next to that location when I was in high school. Now it has come full circle.
There is good reason to believe that teenagers are attracted to doughnuts, or so thought Len and Lillian Nordmann, who in 1955 moved their Sonoma Do-Nut Kitchen to the Broadway location. They also served burgers, cokes, fries and all the other healthy food choices of the mid-20th century.
Before they moved to the Broadway spot, the Nordmanns operated their doughnut business on First Street East inside what was then called the 20th Century Supermarket. It would later become Food City.
The Nordmanns were not the first people to sell doughnuts in Sonoma. There are holes in my research when there was no mention of doughnuts in the Index-Tribune archives, but I found ads offering doughnuts in Sonoma as far back as the 1930s. Prior to World War II the Old City Bakery, located next to where Sebastiani Theatre is today, offered doughnuts and other baked goods. It later became Willet’s bakery, and then Sonoma French Bakery.
The war put another hole in the local doughnut business, or so it appears, until the early 1950s, when the Nordmanns started making them. After they moved to Broadway, Sonoman Jim Gordon opened Gordon’s Fountain and Donut Shop at their downtown location, also offering full breakfasts and lunches and plenty of doughnuts to go. Jim was active in local organizations and served on a variety of civic councils and committees and operated there for many years.
Two doughnut shops were not enough for hungry Sonomans, however, so Raymond Lavoie opened Moon Donuts on Sonoma Highway in Boyes Hot Springs in 1960. Dean and Deana Nayes bought the business in 1965.
Five years later El Verano got into the doughnut game with the opening of Terry’s Donut Drive-Inn on the Y at Main Street. Terry’s celebrated its opening with a doughnut-eating contest. But I couldn’t find any information about who won. They also offered live western music and something they called amateur hour. It wasn’t clear from their advertising whether they were looking for amateur doughnut makers or amateur doughnut eaters.
The queen and longest lasting of all doughnut shops in the Valley of the Moon has to be the L & N Donut Shop that, in 1970, opened at 262 W. Napa St. where Wine Country Cyclery is today.
L & N was so packed on some mornings that people had to wait outside until a table or counter space was available. Many business owners found it convenient for meetings over coffee and doughnuts or even breakfast. And when the Nordmanns’ doughnut business on Broadway closed, students from the high school managed to find their way downtown to the L & N.
The L & N lasted for nearly two decades, finally closing in 1989.
A year after L & N opened, Bob LaShells, a lifelong baker from San Francisco, opened Fiesta Donut Shop in Fiesta Supermarket in Boyes Hot Springs, where Sonoma Cinemas is today. The market and the doughnut shop were popular with residents of the Springs.
Around that time, Safeway added a bakery and started making doughnuts. To this day, Safeway still makes and sells doughnuts. At least three other businesses currently make and sell doughnuts here in the Valley: Harvey’s Gourmet Donuts on Railroad Avenue, Danish and Donuts on Sonoma Highway across from Fiesta Center and, of course, the aforementioned Dirty Girl which has brought doughnuts back to within shouting distance of our high school.