Monday, April 23, 2018 | 2 a.m.
It’s fitting that Carl’s Donuts has opened its first retail shop in two decades on Sunset Road just a few steps away from Wayne Newton’s Casa De Shenandoah. Both Carl’s and Mr. Las Vegas are legitimate local icons.
Californians Carl and Lyn Sanders began their doughnut operations out of a small motel the couple owned in Lake Tahoe. They moved to Las Vegas and opened Carl’s Donuts in Wonder World, a discount department store, in 1966, moving to a larger store and bakery on Martin Luther King Boulevard and Alta Drive years later.
After Carl’s started selling its glazed, sugared and filled creations to convenience stores, wholesale operations expanded quickly and the retail storefront was shuttered more than 20 years ago. The production hub is now located a few doors down from the new store, which opened weeks ago at 3170 E. Sunset Road.
As doughnuts have become a trendy food item in recent years, it was time for Carl’s to get back in the retail game.
“We just wanted to do it,” says COO Amber Ramsay, granddaughter of the founders. “We were sick of sitting in the office every day and seeing other doughnuts shops having success. We knew we could do that, we used to do that, and we want to meet the customers that have kept us in business all these years and give them a place to hang out and build the same memories with their families that the older generations of locals have.”
As Ramsay says, people who have been in Las Vegas a long time know about Carl’s Donuts. But even if you don’t, there’s a good chance you’ve eaten one of Carl’s maple bars or apple fritters—the company and its approximately 100 employees have been supplying dozens of convenience stores around the valley for decades, as well as mega-hotel operators including MGM Resorts and Station Casinos.
“The first day we opened, I had four different people come in telling me they used to go to the old location, and one said they still had a Carl’s magnet on their fridge,” Ramsay says. “I told them to bring it in and I’d give them some free doughnuts. I just need to see it.”
The new store is spacious, clean and modern, but feels more like a classic doughnut shop than some of the big chain stores and hip “gourmet doughnut” outlets that have popped up around town in recent years. The comfortable approach reflects the Carl’s philosophy: simple is best.
“Doughnuts are definitely having their Instagram moment,” Ramsay says. “But you can have too much variety or too many toppings and then the doughnut itself gets outshined. Here, everyone knows what they want. My favorite is the sour cream old fashioned. My tastes have gone through waves. When I was a kid, we used to make a doughnut with Butterfingers on it and that was my jam. But my tastes are getting more simple the older I get.”
Carl’s serves all the classics, from that old fashioned doughnut to Bavarian cream, raspberry jelly-filled doughnuts to bear claws. Other pastries also fill the case, like croissants, chocolate twists, danish, brownies and muffins, and the new store has a higher quality beverage program than its predecessor. Carl’s is an exclusive distributor of Stumptown Coffee products including cold brew, espresso and specialty lattes and freshly squeezed orange juice is a specialty as well.
Carl’s Donuts is open every day from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. including a noon-until-2 p.m. happy hour when all doughnuts are buy one, get one free.