As part of the U.S. Bank Lunar New Year celebration, the bank is providing California Donuts’ Year of the Rabbit donuts free to customers at select L.A. branches.
The California Donuts shop in Los Angeles’s Koreatown neighborhood has been part of Steppie Kudo’s family longer than she has.
“I wasn’t born when my parents started the business in 1982,” Kudo said. “They had immigrated to America from Cambodia in the 1970s and it was always my mom’s dream to own a business.”
Many mom-and-pop donut shops in Los Angeles are owned by people of Cambodian heritage, Kudo said, and her parents were able to learn the business from others in the community.
“The startup cost for a donut shop was low, so it was a more attainable business for them,” she said. “They only had a couple of people working back then, with a family member helping out at night because it’s open 24 hours.”
While Kudo’s parents didn’t expect her or her sister, Danette Kuoch, to join the donut shop when they grew up, the daughters gravitated to the business world even as children.
“My sister would buy chocolate in bulk at Costco and sell it for a profit,” Kudo said. “I would make crafts and sell those.”
The sisters studied business in college and both worked in other jobs after graduation before joining the family business.
“My sister had a head start because she’s seven years older than me,” Kudo said.
“She wanted to put cereal and candy and other toppers on the donuts,” Kudo said. “Our mom didn’t think that was a good idea, but my sister is the rebel of the family and sometimes when my mom wasn’t there, she’d make those special donuts and put them out. When customers started coming in and asking for them, my parents realized she was onto something.”
When Kudo joined California Donuts, she brought photography and marketing skills that helped the business grow a following on social media that now includes 360,000 followers on its Instagram account.
“Ten years ago, food was huge on Instagram and people were always posting what they were eating,” she said. “We were able to ride that wave and everyone wanted us on their feed. We were really lucky to build a following overnight.”
That following helped the business attract people from well beyond the neighborhood.
“I remember working one day and a mom was buying donuts with her daughter and she said she was from out of state and that her daughter wanted to visit two places in California, Disneyland and California Donuts,” Kudo said with a laugh. “I couldn’t believe someone put us in the same league with Disneyland.”
Kudo and her sister, plus their husbands, now run the business, which has grown to have more than 30 employees. Their parents are mostly retired but still keep an eye on things, literally.
“They’re at home and living the retired life but they always have the donut cameras on, watching what’s happening,” Kudo said. “It’s still their baby.”
While California Donuts makes traditional donuts, Kudo and her sister continue to bring new creative ideas to the menu.
“I’d like to think we’re the first donut shop that started customization,” she said. “We can make letter donuts to spell out ‘happy birthday’ or other things, or special donuts for weddings or other events.”
“I remember working one day and a mom was buying donuts with her daughter and she said she was from out of state and that her daughter wanted to visit two places in California, Disneyland and California Donuts. I couldn’t believe someone put us in the same league with Disneyland.”
Lunar New Year
The sisters also make special donuts for the Lunar New Year, adding unique toppings based on the animal of the year.
As part of the U.S. Bank Lunar New Year celebration, the bank is providing California Donuts’ Year of the Rabbit donuts free to customers at its Arcadia, Alhambra and City of Industry Branches in the Los Angeles area.
The branches are among six U.S. Bank Asian “flagship” branches where the design and focus of the branch is tailored specifically to the Asian American population. The others are in Chinatown Square in Chicago, Chinatown in San Francisco and Factoria in Bellevue, Washington.
“Lunar New Year is a time of reflection and gratitude for the prosperity we experience throughout the year,” said Hamed Tavajohi, Greater Los Angeles Market Leader. “U.S. Bank is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit alongside our communities in a few different ways.”
That includes again offering U.S. Bank Lunar New Year calendars and red envelopes, which are traditionally used to give cash gifts to family and friends, at select U.S. Bank branches while supplies last. Digital wallpaper designs are also available for mobile devices, tablets and desktops.
The bank also plans to be out and about in the community, celebrating Lunar New Year at these festivals and parades.
“We are looking forward to a fun and festive celebration with our customers and communities,” Tavajohi said.
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