At the mention of cholesterol, Kelvyn Cullimore Jr. feigned fury.
"Don't say that word!" he yelled, whacking his desk with a legal pad.Then he grinned. He had good reason to. Beyond his office door hummed Salt Lake Donut, a South Salt Lake factory that fries, frosts and rolls doughnuts out the loading dock door at the rate of 1 million sinkers a week.
That production rate makes Salt Lake Donut the largest independently owned doughnut manufacturer in Utah, if not the Western United States, said Cullimore, the company's executive vice president.
The plant opened at 2569 S. State in 1946. In 1979, American Consolidated Industries, which Cullimore's family owns, formed for the purpose of acquiring Salt Lake Donut, Dunford Bakery and Ike's Candy.
Dunford and Ike's have since been sold, but the Dunford name is one of the labels under which the doughnuts are marketed and sold in 16 Western states, Cullimore said.
Doughnuts are a unique product in the bakery industry because they are not baked but fried, and their manufacture requires special equipment that most bakeries don't have, he said.
Bakeries and convenience stores in medium-size metropolitan markets are Salt Lake Donut's best customers. Cullimore said that his plant supplies about 60 percent of local 7-Eleven stores' doughnuts.
But though doughnuts seem to enjoy a universal popularity, they actually are a seasonal product, with Halloween week's peak sales plummeting when the fried treats start competing with Thanksgiving and Christmas season pies and candy. By February, he said, "people are back in the routine of a normal life," which judging from Salt Lake Donut's production figures definitely includes doughnut consumption.
Competitors have tried to match Salt Lake Donut's product by making doughnuts from standard 50-pound sacks of commercial mix. But such competition isn't a cause for worry, Cullimore said.
"We run our own formulas," he said, "and the quality of our product has been our hallmark."
When American Consolidated Industries bought Salt Lake Donut in 1971, the firm set up a lab in the old Dunford Bakery building on 300 West. The lab people kept working on the doughnut recipe until they nailed it - and then they sold the lab. Salt Lake Donut now gets its own special doughnut mix from a manufacturer, but the recipe is proprietary.
Their manufacturing methods also incorporate proprietary formulas, Cullimore said. Salt Lake Donut uses water from its own artesian well - no chlorine ever finds its way into the batter - and the factory workers use special tricks when they combine the mixes.
Once mixed, the batter is shot in rings directly into vats of 400-degree fat. The doughnuts bob through the elongated fryer until they hit the cooling conveyor. The Dunford chocolate doughnuts are so dense they must make a few more turns on the conveyor before they are cool enough for the icing phase.
After the doughnuts have passed through cascading sheets of frosting, they travel another few hundred feet on the conveyors, where they are topped with nuts or coconut or the like. Then, they reach end of the line, where Salt Lake Donut staffers pack them into boxes for shipping.
Cullimore wanted to make two points about his product. First, he said, contrary to popular belief, there is no such critter as a doughnut hole (unless one means the place in the middle of a doughnut where there is no doughnut at all, an existential conundrum perhaps best contemplated while chewing on said doughnut). Second, all doughnuts worthy of the name are fried in animal fat.
"You can fry a french fry in vegetable oil, and it won't affect the taste," he said. "But not doughnuts. They just don't taste as good."
Considering the pounding dietary cholesterol has been taking lately, Cullimore's slightly defensive posture is understandable. But really, has anyone ever tried to justify doughnuts on a good-for-you basis?
The factory has a storefront retail counter, but retail sales only account for about 10 percent of the operation's revenues. The storefront allows the Salt Lake public to get the doughnuts when they are the freshest, and also allows the plant to rid itself of seconds, which are sold at $3.50 per well-stuffed box.
Cullimore said that because the plant was rebuilt after a fire in 1971, it was still relatively modern when his family bought it in 1979. They haven't expanded the building but have been able to upgrade the bakery's technology. The automated doughnut factory employs about 25 people year-round.
Normally, the plant runs about 18 hours a day, six days a week, a production schedule that allows the product to be shipped out fresh almost daily. During peak season - Halloween week and early May when the Western national parks open - the factory will run 'round the clock, stopping only for the mandatory four-hour cleaning period.
The cleanup is crucial because Salt Lake Donut is inspected by the state and federal health departments, as well as the military. "And that is a white-glove inspection," Cullimore said. Falling below military standards would mean the plant could no longer supply the lucrative military market.