csuf alumnus Kathy Ly poses with large heart shaped donut

Are you a huge fan of donuts? The Donut Life Museum brings all your circular-treat dreams to life at the Westminster Mall in Orange County. Alumni Kathy Ly ’15, Bryan Ross ’14 and Alix Luu ’14 co-founded the museum after Ly left the Walt Disney Company in 2018. With the difficulty of COVID-19, these three individuals had to change their business model to continue their entrepreneurship journey, but it all began with the love of sweets.

Ly has always been a fan of donuts. In third grade, she left her elementary school during break time in search for the sweet treat and was found with a dozen donut holes outside the donut shop by her parents. In college, she would wait hours for fresh blueberry donuts, so when she decided to leave Disney, her goal was “to combine food with art in a way everyone can relate to,” leading to the museum today.

“I wanted to create a unique and joyful experience for guests while tying back to a donut’s circular shape, which reminds me of the circle of life,” says Ly. “I chose to highlight life’s significant moments all told through the whimsical world of donut art installations and puns.”

With COVID-19 delaying their grand opening, the founders had to find a way to work through the challenge. The pandemic “led us to pivot our business model from a traditional experiential pop-up museum into a creative space specializing in private bookings, which allowed us to reopen,” says Ly. They expanded their merchandise, partnered with local businesses to bring safe events, such as paint nights and DIY classes, and served as a unique venue for content creators to visit while many other attractions were closed. Their efforts brought in countless guests to the mall, which helped their business stay afloat.

National Donut Day is on June 4, and the museum will host an exclusive donut carnival event with limited tickets as they also celebrate the Donut Life Museum’s first anniversary. In the future, they plan to add an interactive café within the museum.

There were quite a few obstacles in establishing a pop-up museum. “Opening a pop-up requires gargantuan work for a short period. Permitting and finding the location were the most difficult parts of this experience,” says Ly. “We had to move to multiple locations because the concept of pop-up museums is so novel that the city and shopping center kept forcing us to be a traditional museum in the process. We had to redefine our business model and find a location that understood our concept, which led us to Westminster.”

The Donut Life Museum will be open in Westminster until the end of the summer with permanent conversion plans still to be determined, but fear not, they have quite a few offers with shopping centers in San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Chicago.

Ly’s experience at CSUF greatly contributed to her entrepreneurship journey. “As I created the initial business plan for Donut Life Museum, I revisited my old notes and a lean canvas business model from management class with Dr. Robert Kovacev,” says Ly. “I held onto it for a good reason after taking his class; it helped me create an effective business roadmap. Building a business takes forward-thinking and strategic planning. The work is laid with a thorough business plan, SWOT analysis, projections, and a pro forma P&L statement.” Her final plan was more than 30 pages long.

In early 2020, Center for Entrepreneurship’s CSUF consulting group analyzed the Donut Life Museum with weekly Zoom meetings and helped with financials, pricing, merchandising and staffing strategies. The founders took the students’ recommendations and implemented them in their business plan. “It was great to give back to the school and provide a real-life project for the students,” says Ly.

The Donut Life Museum is an Instagram-worthy spot with a heartwarming story behind it. After all, Titan alumni are at the forefront of its creation, so if you have time over the next few months, check it out.

Learn more about the Donut Life Museum.