On a traffic swamped stretch of Newport Blvd. in Costa Mesa two surprisingly similar but individually unique donut shops exist just 0.3 miles from each other.
Dippity Donuts and Oh Those Donuts have both managed to survive the fancy donut craze of the last decade, thrive despite no known attempts at advertising, and may just offer the perfect lens through which to examine their changing environs.
Oh yeah, their donuts are modest masterpieces as well.
Dippity (established in 1978) and Oh Those (established in 1983) sit in relatively small standalone buildings on the northbound side of Newport Blvd. Two constants in an ever-changing postmodern equation, the two donut stores have born witness to the local impacts of gentrification, homelessness, population growth, and the rise of Instagram driven food trends.
Oh Those Donuts baker extraordinaire Ron Steranko, who’s been making the donuts at Oh Those exclusively for 33 years and began his donut career in 1967 at Dunkin, has watched Costa Mesa change.
The expansion of the 55 Freeway in 1992 turned a ditch in the middle of Newport Blvd. into an 8 lane behemoth and tranquilized a bustling business district. Both Oh Those and Dippity carried on but down-the-road neighbor Villa Donuts wasn’t so lucky.
“Villa Donuts and all those business on the other side of where the freeway drops down, they just got killed,” Steranko recalls. “They all got killed. At one time you had to go by every one of those…you had to go all the way down to Dick Church’s.”
Steranko notes the metamorphosis of Costa Mesa into the higher end “Newport-Mesa.” He’s seen the daytime clientele at Oh Those shift slightly from working class men and women on their way to work to OC moms in Range Rovers.
The nighttime clientele used to feature an occasional old drunk, now at any given time there’s always a handful of OC’s 7000+ homeless individuals hanging outside or wandering in for a cheap bite and a place to rest their head.
Despite all the socioeconomic factors that one can wax poetic on through the lens of a donut shop, what really matters is the fried, and sometimes baked, round pieces of dough sold by the dozen or individually at Oh Those and Dippity.
At Dippity, one has the basic options, perfected, at their fingertips. Cake donuts with sprinkles, Devil’s food, chocolate glazed, and powdered sugar jelly filled varieties all sit in neat little rows. The blueberry cake donut is one of their most popular and tastes like a perfectly evolved version of a blueberry muffin.
“Donuts and coffee, that’s it,” the Cambodian woman behind the counter at Dippity says as she emphasizes that there is nothing fancy about the establishment. By the way, if you aren’t versed in the history of Cambodians and donuts in Southern California, look it up.
She added that although Dippity carries croissant sandwiches and smoothies on the menu, she’ll politely decline to prepare them for customers who try to order anything but the standard fare during the morning rush. Dippity keeps it simple and the customers like that.
Down the road, Oh Those is known for their sandwiches more so than their sweeter offerings. Sure, the donuts are solid. Thick apple fritters and mountainous cinnamon rolls dominate the display next to the more standard fare (come by at 3 AM for a freshie straight from the back). But still, it’s the sandwiches that steal the show. A build-your-own sandwich form awaits hungry customers like the blank canvas excites an eager painter.
Both shops offer additional vices depending on what you’re into. At Dippity, patrons purchase lottery tickets, scratchers, and cigarettes with their maple bars and chocolate old fashioned donuts. At Oh Those, the deep fryer in the back churns out greasy heaps of french fries and onion rings.
Although locals are never indecisive about which shop they prefer, this piece was not written to choose one shop over the other.
If Dippity is old school transactional simplicity then Oh Those is a late night cult classic. In fact, a local musical act that has attained youthful cult status themselves, Walter Mitty And His Makeshift Orchestra, has played impromptu acoustic shows to nearly one hundred Costa Mesa surf-skate teens at Oh Those on more than one occasion.
The history of So Cal donut culture can be summarized by the ownership of the two shops. Dippity is owned and operated by Cambodian immigrants who learned the trade from family, Oh Those by a retired firefighter who knew the importance of doughnuts to cops & firefighters.
Cops, firefighters, and Cambodian immigrants – the roots of the OC doughnut scene personified.
When asked which donut is the most popular at Oh Those, Ron Steranko answers “all of them.”
And when asked which donut is his favorite, Steranko’s answer exemplifies the function-over-form ethos of Oh Those and Dippity vs. other local establishments like Sidecar and Good Town Doughnuts.
“I don’t have any favorites. I’ve been doing this for 50 years, donuts make me money” he says with a subtle grin as he peers out from his deliciously oily back kitchen.