Donuts are hard enough to resist. But a donut called “Sunshine” is definitely required eating.
Natives of the Sioux City area are all too familiar with this legendary local temptation. I only recently learned about Sunshine Donuts and why – gasp! – they nearly became deep-fried history.
Eight Sunshine Food Markets dotted Sioux City beginning the mid-1900s. More than a grocery store, reminiscent adults remember Sunshine’s for two reasons: rides on Sandy, the mechanical “penny pony,” and donuts, made fresh and served piping hot.
My coworker Leola told me how she used to watch through the store window as the donuts floated atop the hot grease. Before they cooled, bakers frosted the donuts and sold them to eager children who were gleefully oblivious to sticky fingers and drippy chins.
By about 2000, each of the Sunshine Food Markets had closed and locals sadly endured a Sunshine Donut drought until 2009 when Sarah Kragthorpe was able to lease (it’s a long story) the original Sunshine Donut-making machine and revived the popular snack at her downtown restaurant, Jitter’s.
That small, very vintage machine is aptly named the Donut Robot (for real), giving the impression that these tasty temptations are mass manufactured with little skill or attention. But Sunshine Donuts aren’t just any donut and making them requires far more than flour and frosting. Enter Marilyn Wilson who made Sunshine Donuts for more than 20 years and can “do it in her sleep” according to Sarah. Marilyn mentored Jitter’s employees on the nuances of these cake donuts, which are lighter and fluffier than their raised donut cousin. The small but mighty Donut Robot churns out eight perfectly prepared donuts each minute.
Today, Jitter’s makes between 80 and 100 dozen donuts daily. On the weekend that number balloons – along with your waistline, potentially – to upwards of 175 dozen. I believe it. I visited Jitter’s for a tasty lunch-time veggie wrap and chips. By that time of day, only a couple dozen donuts remained. I felt obligated to take some home, heartbroken at the thought that these sweet treats could become tomorrow’s trash. It was the least I could do. For the three-hour drive back to Des Moines I stowed the donuts safely behind my driver’s seat where I was physically unable to reach and devour them all.
My central Iowa family and office mates now understand what northwest Iowans have known for years: Donuts are good. Sunshine is good. A Sunshine Donut combines the best of both worlds and really can make you happy when skies are gray.
Learn more about Jitter's & their Sunshine Donuts by visiting them on Facebook.