James, Sandy and Michelle Ma: The First Family of Blueberry Doughnuts

See our full OC Weekly 2013 People Issue

James, Sandy and Michelle Ma: The First Family of Blueberry Doughnuts

A crowd lingers in front of M & M Donuts in Anaheim, as rows of cars idle just outside. It's the middle of the night, temperatures are in the historic lows, yet several of the customers have waited for more than two hours. Then, deliverance.

"Do you smell that?" one of the customers pipes up. "It's coming! The blueberry doughnuts are coming!"

It's at this humble doughnut shop—really, a tiny drive-thru in the middle of a featureless parking lot—that Orange County's latest dessert craze began. Not cupcakes or even pies, but blueberry doughnuts: plump, blueberry-spotted beauties fried to a rich brown and smothered in a frosting-like glaze. M & M makes sure the treats are served scathing-hot in pizza boxes that barely contain the melting glaze and oil, so sinful you can gain 10 pounds by just sniffing them.

But the geniuses behind this phenomenon aren't hipsters. James and Sandy Ma were both born in China, but met and married in California after two months of dating in 1986. It was in Southern California that they decided to work for themselves by doing what they loved best: baking. The two have worked full-time ever since, even after giving birth to their only daughter, Michelle, whose initials were the inspiration behind the bakery's name.

"I remember as a little girl seeing piles and piles of blueberries on the shelves in the back and wondering what they were for," Michelle Ma says. "It'd be weird if my parents weren't in the doughnut business."

Weird, indeed. James and Sandy owned two doughnut shops before M & M—one in Placentia, another in Yorba Linda—and at all three ventures, they were the only two employees. "My parents are the only employees because if someone else besides them were to make the doughnuts, they just wouldn't taste the same," Michelle says. "They want to keep all the food original."

Though the Mas have showcased their blueberry doughnut recipe at every one of their bakeries, it wasn't until M & M opened in 2004 that people started to catch on to the guilty pleasure. One night, a large group bought a few dozen, and then others followed suit; from one random buy, M & M's fruity tale became an overnight sensation, and the story hasn't stopped, earning praise on social and regular media ever since.

James and Sandy work full-time, seven days a week, taking just two days off each year to vacation in Las Vegas. James is also an 11-year employee of WalMart. Michelle, meanwhile, is a full-time nursing student but takes over on weekends. The family comes in at 5 p.m. to knead dough and fire up the ovens, but just when it seems as though the late hours will provide some time to breathe, it's 9 p.m., and a line of eager doughnut-lovers has inevitably formed. The shop won't close until noon, giving just a couple of hours of rest before the next wave starts.

M & M turns 9 this month and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

"My parents both came from nothing," Michelle says. "They started out in a new country with nothing and had to work hard to be able to get to where they are today; they wanted me to live the American Dream, and now I am. Besides that motivation, they bake because they love it. My parents genuinely love what they do. They love making doughnuts."

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2 comments
JGlanton
JGlanton topcommenter

Operating a donut shop is damn hard work.  Kudos to the Ma family for working their butts off and making the American dream happen for them. The first generation of immigrants sacrificing for the betterment of the next. If you can do that and also love what you do, you are leading an envious rich life.

Michelle is a beautiful girl and wise for her age. Another thing to be proud of as parents.

I can't wait to come down and try some blueberry donuts.

 
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