After nearly two years, the Jelly Donut has reopened at 24th and South Van Ness

“What can I get you, mama?” Kannyka Nhul greets her customers with warmth and an easy familiarity at The Jelly Donut at the northeast corner of 24th Street and South Van Ness, the shop in which she practically grew up.

“I don’t know how they got to the donut business,” she shrugs, laughing about the stereotype that Asians, specifically Cambodians like her family, run donut shops. Born in Thailand at a camp for Cambodian refugees, Kannyka was a mere two years old when she arrived in San Francisco, along with several members of her extended family.

Kannyka’s brother Victor chimes in: “It’s very easy to learn. You need minimal English to learn, or just to operate the business.” 

Their older relatives who help run The Jelly Donut — their dad, their great aunt, a family friend they call “auntie” — still don’t speak much English, but have successfully steered this family business since 1987, except for the nearly two-year hiatus they recently took for renovations and seismic retrofitting.

The little shop has been holed up since August, 2019, and just reopened in late June — such a  long break that it took the Nhul siblings a minute to remember how long it’d been. The building, which spans almost half the block and houses multiple businesses, was covered in scaffolding and under construction since before the pandemic began. While the original sign in The Jelly Donut window said it would reopen within six months, delays and Covid-19 drew the process out. 

After nearly two years away, Kannyka, 39, and Victor, 32, are excited to be back. Though they didn’t have the money to do renovations themselves, the building’s new owners upgraded the interior of their shop to a fresh new look.  

“Hecka changed,” Kannyka said. “Oh my God, it changed, oh my God. You know how the ‘80s looked, right?” She compared the previous color scheme of the shop to a bunch of pink donuts that had sat in the sun for too long. 

She and her brother crack up bantering about the shape their bathroom used to be in. 

“You had to be careful if you might step a certain way, the wood was really fragile” — “There was a hole in it, you could probably look through it!” — “You could probably fall down deep down in there, that’s how old it was!” 

Victor and Kannyka Nhul are siblings who run The Jelly Donut, a Mission District family business of more than 30 years.

These two grew up in this neighborhood, at the shop that their parents owned. Both were helping around the store by the time they were 11 or 12, or playing video games with their neighborhood friends who would drop in. 

Kannyka and Victor’s dad and uncle originally ran a donut shop in the ‘80s called Bells Donuts at Sixth and Market. The 24-hour spot made “a lot of money” selling donuts downtown and delivering them around the city, but the Nhuls eventually closed as the area became too dangerous. 

By pooling their money and helping each other from the ground up, the Nhuls and their extended family have opened over 10 donut shops around Northern California. After Bells closed, Kannyka and Victor’s parents landed in the Mission more than 30 years ago. 

The siblings are glad to be back on their block, not just because they love what they do but also because this community keeps them grounded. While The Jelly Donut was closed, Victor worked at his uncle’s shop in Union City. Kannyka took care of her mother, who has health issues. 

Now, they’re finally back to their routine: Victor does the frying, which is usually the men’s job, Kannyka says, and she’s happy with the arrangement, because she prefers to work at the cash register, chatting with whoever comes in. 

“It’s like the barber shop, right? You know, you go there, you talk.” She knows some of her customers’ “whole life story,” and they have seen hers. Kannyka went to elementary, middle, and high school in the neighborhood, and she said some of her customers have also seen her at her worst. 

A few years ago, she had a different routine: “More than a couple of shots of Hennessy, and then work. I was depressed, I was going through a lot in my life. Like, I didn’t care,” Kannyka said. Sometimes she would black out from the alcohol and a customer would jump in to help her. 

The day we met, Kannyka was celebrating 44 months sober. Once upon a time, working at the donut shop was just a job she had to do to help her parents, but these days, she said, “I feel like I’m here for a reason.” She has more compassion and a stronger connection with her community nowadays, and hopes that she might inspire someone else who is struggling. 

Victor is also happy to be back at his home donut shop. “I get to put my spin on donuts and I get to be creative,” he said, although he still has to get the OK from his dad, who has an “old-school, traditional” view on donuts. “Last week I did a maple bacon donut; this week I want to do a peanut butter and jelly donut.”

Inspiration comes from all sorts of places. Many of Victor’s customers are stoners, he said, and they give him creative ideas to work with. His wife is Salvadoran-Mexican, and currently they’re working on a tres leches donut, based on her favorite dessert.  

Coming up, he’ll be making the donuts for a baby shower being thrown by his neighbor, who works at the Napper Tandy bar across the street. They’ve been friends for years: he’ll take over a box of donuts after work, and they’ll comp his drinks. 

Although the whole family now lives together in the East Bay, the Nhuls are still very much an established part of the Mission community, and the community is loyal to them. “People come from the Mission, Bayview, all over San Francisco, just for here,” Victor said. 

When the new building debuted with a fresh, deep-blue paint job, Victor laughed: “We’re one block away from 24th and Mission. I was like, ‘This is a predominantly Norteño neighborhood … do you guys even get the concept?’” 

The side of the building was immediately tagged with graffiti, but Victor said the people who did it thought the shop had been sold to new owners. They not only came to apologize, but even covered up the markings. 

As I wait in line for a donut, a customer tells Kannyka about the time when he had only $2 in his pocket, but Kannyka’s great aunt, Iv Ky, hooked him up with coffee and a donut anyway. Like many of The Jelly Donut’s regulars, he’s now been frequenting the shop for 12 years, because inside, they offer more than just donuts.

How different a Donut shop can be

Eleni Balakrishnan

Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim over eight years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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24 Comments

  1. “The side of the building was immediately tagged with graffiti, but Victor said the people who did it thought the shop had been sold to new owners. They not only came to apologize, but even covered up the markings. ”

    Wow. Can someone educate these individuals that it’s okay for new businesses to enter the community?

    1. Love jelly donut so much! Great spot.

      On this topic, curious if Cinderella bakery is still planning to open.

  2. I used to go there when it first opened up in 87… I lived on 20th S Vanness just a few blocks down. Then moved out to Daly City, but used to drop by now and then… now I’m out way in east bay and haven’t been back in a min but glad to hear they are back. Will def drop by soon!

  3. Hi I’m Victor Nhul and i just want to say from The Jelly Donut family thank you so much for writing about us. It really means a lot to be a part of the mission. The mission is my home and we will be here for a long time to come. I look forward to see the next generation grow like my parents did. Thank you so much.

    1. I survived for weeks between jobs from the free donut holes they would put in each bag, no matter how many donuts you bought! Kind people, I will be there again very soon.

    2. Roy, any chance you might want to open a store here in Santa Clara by the Niners stadium? We need a great donut shop so badly!!!!

  4. I love this place so much and am so glad they’re back! we were hoping they’d survive the pandemic

  5. Loved going there when we lived in Noe Valley for a couple years. Incredibly nice kids who were always decked out in Warriors and Giants gear. Will definitely pop in when I’m back in the neighborhood!

  6. This place and these people are the best.

    Hey boss!
    Hi mama!

    They’re so nice that I wouldn’t care if the do(ugh)nuts weren’t consistently delicious, but … they are, too!

    (As for two years of protracted Calle 24 landlord faffing about and “Covid” explaining every type of ineptitude, yeah, whatever. At least one wonderful small business is still with us.)

  7. Man. I thought you guys closed down. Omw way to a jkbsite I stopped by to grab some donuts. Soon as I pulled up,I was like. I’m I in the wrong place. I went around the block and realized I was at the right place. But it was boarded up.
    Glad you guys are still there and opened back up. See yall soon.

  8. I’m delighted to see this shop opening up after such a long hiatus & am looking forward to stopping by there soon!
    Could someone please let the Nhul’s know that at least one of the mapping programs (in my case, an Apple – T-Mobile phone) is marking the place as “permanently closed”. It would be a real drag if that has a negative affect on people knowing that they’re open for business.

  9. So glad the hiatus wasn’t permanent. Great business run by great people. And I can’t wait to try some of Victor’s creative concoctions.

  10. These guys got me through the recession in 06. I was broke, no work, I would come get my morning coffee and 1 donut for breakfast and they would give extra donut holes just cause they were kind people.

    I don’t eat donuts much today, cutting down on sugar. But I’ll go to the jelly for coffee. :). Love these people.

  11. Went to a “Best donuts in San Francisco” per the internet down the street from just as an experiment. Guyuck! Went back to the Jelly Donut and haven’t looked back. Best donuts in town for sure and don’t cost $4.50 dufus techie prices. So good to see them back.

  12. I love this place! Missed the delicious donuts. Always happy, groovy, friendly people to help serve you and make your day. Welcome back!!

  13. I stopped by here at least 3times a week on my way home from work walking from BART. I can’t tell you how much we love this place. It’s like
    , no matter how crappy my day goes, I can get some super great doughnuts on my way home. And the great Aunt always tossed in a few free doughnut holes. LOVE YOU GUYS. Welcome back home!

  14. Good peoples. I like Pops and I remember when Victor use to climb up and down that ladder to the storage area playing video games. Donuts good too.

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