Lewis Rudolph, a co-founder of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc., died Sunday in Nashville, Tenn.
He was 95.
William Lewis Rudolph was a teenager when he joined his family’s emerging doughnut business during the Great Depression and helped open Nashville’s first Krispy Kreme shop.
Mr. Rudolph, who went by Lewis, began working at the Charlotte Pike store with his father, sister and two brothers in the mid-1930s, and over the years he helped build the Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corp., that has delighted consumers for decades and become an icon of Southern fare. He died Sunday at age 95.
Lewis Rudolph grew up on a farm near Paducah, Ky., where his father, Plumie Rudolph, ran a general store. Based on family records, his uncle, Ishmael Armstrong, and his brother, Vernon Rudolph, then 18, began making and selling yeast-raised doughnuts, following a recipe from a New Orleans chef. Both the doughnut business and the general store struggled amid the economic downturn and they sought opportunities in Nashville, with Plumie Rudolph eventually buying the doughnut operation from Armstrong.
Lewis Rudolph quit high school to work at the doughnut shop, mixing ingredients in a bowl by hand. The doughnut shop did well enough to expand to Charleston, W.Va., and Atlanta, and in 1937, Vernon Rudolph established the doughnut brand in Winston-Salem, N.C., inspired by the success Camel cigarettes had there.
It was the same year Mr. Rudolph married Jeanne Marie Fisher of Nashville.
Krispy Kreme continued to expand, and when it was incorporated in 1947 there were eight shops throughout the Southeast. Vernon Rudolph ran the company as president and chairman of the board, and Mr. Rudolph was vice president.
In the late 1950s, Mr. Rudolph returned to Nashville from Winston-Salem to buy two Krispy Kreme shops and opened two more in the 1960s: one on West End Avenue and another on Thompson Lane. He retired from the doughnut business in 1985, according to his family.
Vernon Rudolph died in 1973, three years before the company merged with Beatrice Foods Company of Chicago. With sales slumping under Beatrice, franchisees, including Mr. Rudolph, rallied around a buyout in 1983. Publicly traded since 2000, Krispy Kreme now has more than 975 locations in 20 countries.
Lewis Rudolph is survived by his wife, Jeanne Fisher Rudolph, four children, 12 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and one great, great-grandchild.
“He was a very caring, family-oriented man,” said his daughter Joyce Cope.