Westco, a sup­plier of bak­ery in­gre­di­ents, latched on to grow­ing de­mand for hand-held snacks dur­ing the baby boomer years. Its sales of mixes and glazes climbed.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS BEAT - By David Pier­son david.pier­son@la­ Twit­ter: @dh­pier­son

Ron Ziegler doesn’t re­mem­ber any fuss over Na­tional Dough­nut Day when he was run­ning his fam­ily busi­ness, a ma­jor Los An­ge­les­based sup­plier of dry mixes, fruit fill­ings and pink boxes be­fore it was sold 25 years ago.

“We’d never heard of Na­tional Dough­nut Day when we were in busi­ness,” the 80-year-old Ziegler said of the an­nual event that was cel­e­brated Fri­day. “It would have been good. Our cus­tomers were ter­ri­ble at mar­ket­ing.”

Ziegler would know. Decades be­fore there were Na­tional Dough­nut Day hash­tags on so­cial me­dia, Ziegler’s Westco was in­tro­duc­ing hol­i­day-themed pas­tries, de­vel­op­ing f la­vor­ings such as the but­ter­milk bar and teach­ing bak­ers how to prop­erly make an old fash­ioned (you turn it twice in the fryer).

With­out Westco, and some of its com­peti­tors, L.A. may never have emerged as the un­of­fi­cial dough­nut cap­i­tal of the world.

“They were huge,” said Stan Berman, 88, who has run the famed Stan’s Donuts in West­wood since 1965. “They were sup­pli­ers of ev­ery­thing.”

Westco, first known as West Coast Sup­ply Co. be­fore be­ing short­ened, was founded by Ziegler’s grand­fa­ther John Ziegler in the late-1920s — at least a decade be­fore the Sal­va­tion Army es­tab­lished Na­tional Dough­nut Day to com­mem­o­rate fe­male vol­un­teers who served dough­nuts to soldiers in the First World War.

Lithua­nian-born John Ziegler ar­rived in Amer­ica around the turn of the cen­tury, first home­steading in North Dakota be­fore even­tu­ally set­tling in L.A. The com­pany started out sell­ing raisins and nuts then added all man­ner of raw in­gre­di­ents for bak­eries. It was orig­i­nally based south of down­town L.A. at Washington and Long Beach boule­vards. It moved to Pico Rivera in 1985.

Un­til the late 1950s, dough­nut in­gre­di­ents amounted to less than 1% of the com­pany’s rev­enue. A stan­dard bak­ery might have only sold a clas­sic raised dough­nut (which uses yeast) or a cake dough­nut, a denser va­ri­ety that re­lies on bak­ing soda and bak­ing pow­der to rise.

But the baby boomer years changed eat­ing habits. The pro­lif­er­a­tion of cars and free­ways made hand-held snacks more de­sir­able.

En­trepreneurs started fig­ur­ing out they could score fat­ter profit mar­gins with dough­nuts rather than bread or cakes. It was eas­ier and quicker to mas­ter the skills and the in­gre­di­ents weren’t as costly. Sales of Westco’s dough­nut mixes and glazes started to pickup.

The com­pany held classes to train would-be dough­nut mak­ers.

“Our an­gle was al­ways to try and help cus­tomers do more busi­ness,” said Ziegler, who grew up in Her­mosa Beach. “If they do good, then we’ll do good.”

The new de­mand fu­eled ex­pan­sion. The com­pany grew its op­er­a­tions across Cal­i­for­nia and in Ari­zona, Ore­gon, Washington and Ne­vada.

When John Ziegler died in 1965, his sons Paul, Ray (Ron’s fa­ther) and Allen took over. Allen Ziegler would later be known for his phil­an­thropic work, do­nat­ing mil­lions to Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tions in the South­land. Any­time he’d fly, he would carry sev­eral boxes of dough­nuts to hand out to fel­low pas­sen­gers.

In 1970, Ron Ziegler was named pres­i­dent of Westco, a com­pany he started work­ing at as a boy sweep­ing the floors of a ware­house thick with the smell of spices such as car­away and cin­na­mon.

Af­ter the Vietnam War ended, Westco’s cus­tomers in­creas­ingly in­cluded Cam­bo­dian refugees who would come to dom­i­nate the lo­cal dough­nut busi­ness and pop­u­lar­ize the pink box.

(Ron Ziegler said pink boxes had been around for years, but mainly for cakes, pas­tries and cook­ies. They were sup­plied to Westco by a com­pany that had equip­ment that could print pink ink on gray card­board rather than the costlier white card­board.)

Westco’s sup­plies even reached as far as Saudi Ara­bia. In the early 1990s, a busi­ness­man there per­suaded Ron Ziegler to help him open a dough­nut store in the king­dom. Ziegler was skep­ti­cal. He knew dough­nut sales col­lapsed in hot cli­mates such as Ari­zona’s dur­ing the sum­mer.

“So I go to Saudi Ara­bia to see for my­self. It turns out no one gets up in the morn­ing. They wait un­til night­time when it’s cooler to get their dough­nuts. It was a smash­ing suc­cess,” Ziegler said.

In 1992, the Ziegler fam­ily sold Westco to CSM, a Dutch bak­ing sup­ply con­glom­er­ate. Westco was re­branded BakeMark, which con­tin­ues to use Westco’s Pico Rivera ad­dress. Ron Ziegler’s son Tim Ziegler man­ages BakeMark’s cus­tomers on the Cen­tral Coast, im­plor­ing bak­ers to use the best in­gre­di­ents like his fa­ther did years ear­lier.

“There’s no magic to a good dough­nut other than good in­gre­di­ents,” said Ron Ziegler, now re­tired with his wife Betty on a 200-acre ranch in Los Alamos, where the cou­ple keep emus, al­pacas and minia­ture don­keys. “You can’t make lead into gold.”

Pho­to­graphs by Genaro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

RON ZIEGLER’S grand­fa­ther started Westco in the 1920s, bas­ing it near down­town L.A. be­fore mov­ing it to Pico Rivera in 1985.

WESTCO’S cus­tomers stretched as far as Saudi Ara­bia. Above, Ron Ziegler at his home bak­ery in Los Alamos, Calif.

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