July 1, 2004
Stan’s Donuts Mixes Flavor and Fame
O.J. Simpson dropped in all the time. Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft were regulars, as were Robert Blake and Jayne Mansfield. Steve McQueen pedaled up on his bicycle.
Now the star clientele at Stan's Corner Donut Shoppe in Westwood tends to be more on the intellectual side. UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale usually comes in Sundays, and UCLA Nobel Laureate Louis J. Ignarro ("You just missed him," owner Stan Berman said) walks in for his breakfast fix.
Whether old-timer or first-time tourist, they can't help salivating at the sight of Stan's display counter with its 75 varieties of fresh-baked doughnuts.
Will it be the chocolate cinnamon cheese, the blueberry cinnamon log, the apple fritter or the coconut twist? Or, if you really want to impress your date, how about Stan's piece de resistance, Reese's peanut butter pocket, with an option of fresh bananas and chocolate chips mixed in?
If some folks boast of their descent from a long line of old-world rabbis, the 74-year-old Berman can claim generations of Russian Jewish bakers, going back at least to his great-grandfather.
His father and uncle ran two bakeries in Philadelphia, and even joining the Marines during the Korean War couldn't interrupt Berman's career. The Marines, in a rare instance of fitting the right peg into the right hole, sent him to bakery school, and he served his country as pastry chef at the Camp Pendleton NCO (noncommissioned officers) Club.
While in the service, he met his future wife, Ina, at the old Westside Jewish Community Center at Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, which then doubled as a USO club.
Ina worked at Hughes Aircraft and had an apartment in Culver City. After they married, Berman daily drove 90 miles each way between the apartment and Camp Pendleton.
Berman opened Stan's Donuts in 1964, renting the present 200-square-foot store for the bakery, counter display and small indoor and outdoor tables seating 15.
As word of Stan's delicacies spread, his clientele expanded beyond its UCLA student base. Strategically located across the street from the art deco Bruin and Village movie palaces, the shop quickly attracted some Hollywood luminaries.
"When 'Love Story' opened across the street, Ryan O'Neal used to sit here and count the house," Berman reminisced.
Berman's local reputation leaped into national prominence in 2001, when Forbes magazine published an eclectic list of "50 of America's Best," including best yachts, best hammocks, best spin doctors and so forth.
Forbes pronounced Stan's as the best doughnut shop in the whole wide world, praising the product as "the kind that slide down your throat before you can reconsider your gluttony."
Immediately after the article was published, Berman got a call from a corporate vice president in Texas, who insisted that he needed a shipment of a dozen of Stan's finest right away.
"That put me in the FedEx business," said Berman, who now ships all across the United States. At the shop, Berman typically sells 150-200 dozen doughnuts a day to approximately 200 walk-ins, mostly for take-out.
Berman, whose demeanor and speech pattern couldn't be anything but Jewish, is not what you would call the rigidly observant type. His store is open from 6 a.m. to midnight, 365 days a year, although, "on Kol Nidre, my wife insists that we go to the synagogue," he said.
When Berman started out, he used to come in a 2 or 3 a.m. but has since slowed down. He still mixes all the dough, using soybean shortening, and creates many of the specialty doughnuts but leaves the rest to a small, veteran staff.
He and his wife also take time off for travel, including two trips to Israel.
In the doughnut business, "you're affected by every trend," noted Berman, and acknowledged that since the low-carb craze took off, sales have been down 10 percent. But he expects to survive all fads, personally and professionally.
"I really never expected to live past 60, but I get so much joy out of the business, I've made so many wonderful friends that I want to stick around another decade till the shop's 50th anniversary," he said. "After that, we'll see? Maybe one of my sons will take over."
Full disclosure: After the interview, Berman presented The Jewish Journal with a dozen complimentary doughnuts. The evidence has since disappeared.
Stan's Donuts is located at 10948 Weyburn Ave., Westwood. For more information, call (310) 208-8660, or visit www.stansdonuts.com .