VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The mini-donut is arguably the most iconic snack at Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition, and the tiny rings are celebrating a sweet milestone. Those Little Donuts is turning 50 this year.
“It’s always fun being out here and getting to sell fun for a living,” current owner Nathan Maier said with a laugh.
Maier, who lives in Calgary, took over the business with his father in 2012, when former owner Steve Johnson decided to hang up his apron and retire. Maier is no stranger to the fair life. He got his start as a teenager and now he owns the Slingshot ride and co-owns a couple other food trucks.
“For years I used to stand at the end of the trailer and watch the donuts go around in the scroll,” Maier said.
Those Little Donuts was started by Johnson’s father in Winnipeg in 1968 and the original machines have been working ever since.
The mythos behind the mini treat claims a Johnson family member was an engineer who worked for the Disney Corporation and was part of a team who designed the machine to promote the launch of the animated film Thumbelina. The story goes that Johnson saved the machines from being thrown out. However, the full motion picture, made by Warner Bros. wasn’t released until 1994, and didn’t begin production until 1991. So, it remains unclear exactly how the machines came into being.
They now tour western Canada each summer, stopping in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon and Vancouver. Those Little Donuts have made an appearance at the Fair since 1976.
Despite their age, the brand has never gone stale, and Maier is on track to sell the PNE’s 100,000,000th mini-O before the fair leaves town. However, he says taking over the business hasn’t always been a sweet ride.
“Making sure that we’re still turning out a consistent product, and the product that everyone remembers has been some really really big shoes to fill,” he said.
“Any time I change anything in there I just don’t hear the end of it from all the loyal customers. When we changed the fronts up just a little bit and put donuts on the front or when we change any of the little stuff, it’s like nope, can’t do it.”