At 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday night, James and Sandy Ma pull up to their business, M&M Donuts. The line is already six cars deep at the shop, weaving through the shopping center at the corner of Euclid and Katella in Anaheim.
Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series of stories and photographs by Andrea Nieto and Emilianna Vazquez, two Orange County-based photographers and writers who delve deep into their stories and like to capture nuances in spaces they are invited into. They focus on cultural intimacies and dynamics with a current concentration on food. They look to expand within and beyond food in Orange County in the future.
The Mas immediately move into their routine, Sandy to the fryer with the dough that was prepared earlier that day for their famous blueberry doughnuts, and James fulfilling other orders and adding the finishing touches.
The blueberry doughnut, their signature offering, is soft on the inside, and a bit deceptive because of its lightness despite it being fried; two can be eaten … easily. The last bite is by far the best bite, maybe it’s because of the long wait mixed with knowing it’s about to be done as the warmth is expiring, but the sweet oil lingers in your mouth.
The Mas have perfected their shared work in sweetness and nothing flashy like the dim yellows and faded reds of the signage keeping the small storefront open through the night.
They make a good team. It takes patience for the blueberry doughnut to be a perfect golden brown and James is hyper-aware of the growing line outside the small, almost kiosk-size building.
It feels hectic in the back but Sandy seems to be the one to hold it down and keep it calm. They go for six hours straight with breaks closer to the end of the shift in the early parts of the morning, if even. The Mas seem to love what they do and it is clear Sandy is the boss of the space.
They corner themselves adjacent to each other and start a rhythm. The doughnut cutter clicks steadily about three dozen into the hot oil and Sandy waits patiently for the right crisping on either side before they go to James for glazing and boxing.
Sandy’s mastering of fry time over the years is what they agree gives her the one with the special touch for the blueberry doughnuts. She is the only one who makes them, every day, 365 days a year. She uses a pair of wooden chopsticks to flip each one by row, like one of those domino shows, or a magician with a good hand for parlor tricks.
These doughnuts are made to eat fresh and take about 15 to 20 minutes a batch, making the wait time range between 20 minutes to two hours, depending on your place in line. Service at night is drive-thru only.
Most people order by the dozen. Whole families are packed in vans, kids on iPads, mom’s talking, young couples looking for a late night dessert. Some clearly not from Anaheim are curious about the discovery of the mysterious blueberry doughnut, but for those familiar with the wait, they seem not to mind and look forward to the outing as a whole — something to do late-night that doesn’t really require you to get ready and really just hanging out in the whip. It was about 10:30 p.m., still early in the night, when we counted about 22 cars in line.
James changes his story a few times scanning his memory about how they decided to be open at such unconventional hours; we never get a decisive answer. M&M Donuts is open from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., and in the mornings from 4 a.m. to noon.
“I’ve been to a lot of doughnut shops in the Bay but none have hours like here,” said Sharon C., 23, who is visiting from Oakland and makes a point to stop by whenever she’s in town. On this night, she led the line for the first time and reminisced with us about her introduction to M&M by friends she had in college out here. “We were just at Downtown Disney and left in time to get here early. They (two other friends in the car) are all from here and used to bring me when I lived here.”
Eighteen years ago, the Mas began this business together, naming it after their daughter’s initials Michelle Ma (M&M), who grew up in the shop. James grew up working in his family’s doughnut shop, Golden Boy in Huntington Beach, and taught Sandy the business.
“She loves the doughnut business,” yells James from the back of the shop as we speak to Sandy. She nods.
We asked what the busiest night was and Sandy nonchalantly says, “Mostly every day now.”
About 10 years ago, popularity was sprung on them through images and video that circulated online through Yelp, local news and food blogs. James describes walking in one night thinking maybe the crowd was for a Food 4 Less giveaway happening next door, then realized everyone was waiting for them.
1614 W. Katella Ave, Anaheim, 92802
Open Mondays through Sundays, 4 a.m.–noon, 9 p.m.–1 a.m.
James expresses a lot of gratitude for the popularity that found them after so many years of making doughnuts. They keep the job between the two of them and sometimes get help from a trusted family friend.
During the morning shift, M&M feels like a different doughnut shop in most aspects, except for taste. The early hours of their doughnut shop cater to working-class people: contractors, city workers and early rising elders who read La Opinión from the newspaper vending machine. M&M’s Cafe de Olla (coffee slow brewed in a pot with cinnamon) is sought after by the crowd of regulars passing by for their morning cafecito. A line still forms with steady foot traffic and everyone at the window already knows their order: a breakfast sandwich, fresh OJ or a doughnut.
This busyness is not due to a sensationalism that has made them famous day and night, but the simplicity of what a good traditional doughnut shop means in Southern California: a handmade community staple, affordable and familiar.
Andrea Nieto and Emilianna Vazquez are contributing photographers and writers for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.