From Suitcases to Sprinkles: Homegrown Vegas Brands

Are the El Portal Theater and El Portal Luggage related?

Only by proximity. The El Portal Theater was located on Fremont Street, and was the first air-conditioned building in Las Vegas. The Borsack family opened an adjacent appliance store in 1936 and, in the 1940s, they shifted focus to become a leather goods store known as El Portal Luggage. Noted as one of the first companies to bring luxury brands to Las Vegas, El Portal was for decades a homegrown store for society mavens, eventually growing to a second outpost in what was then the tony Maryland Square Shopping Center, and then a flagship location in the Forum Shops (1992). But by 2000, El Portal ceased to be a local brand when the Borsack family sold to Wilsons The Leather Experts Inc. Sadly, just two years later, Wilson’s, citing its inability to attract executives to relocate to Las Vegas (because Sin City), closed the eight Las Vegas El Portal locations. Today? From what I can see, the brand simply doesn’t exist anymore.

Photo courtesy of Salim Virji/Flickr

Whatever happened to Carl’s Donuts?

Nostalgic fans of old Vegas brands still have reason to celebrate, however: Carl’s Donuts, a Las Vegas institution for decades (until going wholesale-only), will soon be back in retail action. With so much attention on both local and artisan brands (fueling the success of spots like San Diego’s Donut Bar, which has a Downtown Las Vegas location), this could prove to be perfect timing for the local donut bakery.

Carl’s Donuts was founded in 1963 by Carl and Lyn Sanders, who baked and sold donuts from a converted garage at their California motel. The success soon outgrew the space, and the Sanders decided to move themselves and the budding bakery to Las Vegas. Carl’s was first located in Wonder World, a large department store that also featured small retail shops behind sliding glass doors, often occupied by barbershops, insurance sales offices and the like. Later, Carl’s moved to Highland Avenue, next to another old Vegas brand, Geno’s Pizza. Riding my bike to Carl’s Donuts to scarf down one of their delish giant cinnamon rolls was a Saturday highlight for me, so it was bittersweet when the brand moved to a massive baking facility in the southeast and went to a wholesale-only sales model. If you’ve ever bought a doughnut from a convenience store, you have Carl Sanders to thank!

Now under the leadership of younger family members, Carl’s is making a retail comeback. Recently, I’ve enjoyed their tasty goods at various events and parties, and according to their social media, they will be back in retail action sometime this fall. Get those #foodporn hashtags ready!

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