William Lewis Rudolph, a co-founder of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc., died Sunday in Nashville, Tenn.
He was 95.
Rudolph, who went by Lewis, and his brother, Vernon, turned a secret yeast-raised doughnut recipe from a New Orleans French chef into the glazed delicacy devoured by millions domestically and globally.
The brothers opened a Winston-Salem shop under the Krispy Kreme brand in July 1937, the date the company considers as its corporate founding.
Starting in the business as teenagers, Vernon Rudolph eventually became Krispy Kreme’s chairman and president, while Lewis Rudolph was vice president. Vernon Rudolph died in 1973.
Although Lewis Rudolph moved his family back to Nashville in 1959, he was connected to the company for 48 years before retiring in 1985.
Krispy Kreme said in a statement that “while many of us may have never had the pleasure of meeting Lewis, he has been extolled and will be celebrated as ‘a very caring and family oriented man’ and a significant part of our corporate history.”
According to Rudolph’s obituary in The Tennessean, the brothers’ father, Plumy, bought a doughnut shop in Nashville after the family’s general store closed during the Great Depression. Lewis Rudolph quit high school to work in the shop.
The Rudolphs decided to do business in Winston-Salem in part after reading on a package of Camel cigarettes that the product was manufactured in Winston-Salem. The brothers’ first shop opened in what is now historic Old Salem. They sold doughnuts to grocery stores.
Also making 1937 a momentous year for Lewis Rudolph was marrying Jeanne Fisher, who was from Nashville.
As family members and others opened eight shops across the Southeast, the brothers decided to move the corporate headquarters to Ivy Avenue in Winston-Salem in 1946. A mix-and-equipment factory opened in 1948.
In 1959, Rudolph worked out a deal in which he traded a portion of his Krispy Kreme holdings for two shops in the Nashville market. Rudolph opened two more Nashville shops in the 1960s.
In 1976, three years after Vernon Rudolph died, Beatrice Foods Co. bought the company.
Five years later, a group of franchisees, led by Joseph McAleer and joined by Lewis Rudolph, bought the company back after sales slumped under Beatrice ownership.
Rudolph sold the Nashville shops to the corporation in 1983 and retired in 1985.
Rudolph is survived by his wife, four children, 12 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and one great, great-grandchild.C