The Pink Doughnut Box: The History of a Southern California Icon

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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.

Susan Lim, the Cambodian American owner of Rose Donuts & Cafe, serves doughnuts at her San Clemente store. (Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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.

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Alfredo Paredes loads pink doughnut boxes from a shrink wrap machine at Evergreen Packaging in La Mirada. (Credit: Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)