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All about LAUSD’s iconic coffee cake: A sweet tradition dating back to the 1950s

Jinge Li | June 20, 2024

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Evelen Guirguis holding a tray of coffee cake before putting into oven (Jinge Li/The 74)

Whenever April Heinz’s grown children come back to Los Angeles for a visit, there is one item they crave — LA Unified’s legendary coffee cake.

“They’re now graduated and in college…they came back [for] summer break. I had a couple of slices of coffee cake for them, and they were like, ‘Oh my gosh!’… because, you know it’s a famous thing,” said Heinz, a staff member at Marina Del Rey Middle School.

Stories like Heinz’s are not unique. LAUSD’s coffee cake is one of the most popular items on the district’s menu. Every year LA Unified serves up 800,000 slices of the coffee cake a year across 700 cafeterias, according to an LAIST report.

The coffee cake recipe dates back to 1954 and has undergone several changes due to federal USDA regulations. Evelen Guirguis, who has been with the district for 30 years and is now the cafeteria manager at Marina del Rey Middle School, said shortening, an ingredient “high in calories and offers no nutritional benefits,” has since been cut out.

“Before, the (ingredients) came from the government. Now we buy everything ourselves.” said Guirguis. “We have our own vendor now…[which] means we get the best [products] and everything is fresh,”

Some of the ingredients used to make a LAUSD style coffee cake include vegetable oil, granulated sugar and flour. (Jinge Li/The 74)

The current coffee cake recipe is expected to be updated again in the fall — because of a new set of federal regulations — cutting down on sugar. 

Meanwhile the iconic cake remains in high demand. 

“Even though the fat content has declined, it’s still a very moist cake…a big part of nutrition is what you enjoy,” said Manish Singh, director of LAUSD food services.

The district even tweeted out the recipe during the pandemic, encouraging people to make it while they were home. 

Singh said earlier this month the district ordered 3,500 pieces of coffee cake as part of a staff appreciation day and “it was all gone in no time,”  he said.  “We did a similar thing last year. The first time, they ordered 1,000 pieces and were worried there would be leftovers. It was gone in 20 minutes.”

The cake is so popular, it has even inspired businesses like Runaway Sweet Treats in Los Angeles to offer Old School “LAUSD” Coffee Cake on its menu items using the original recipe. It’s also a big crowd pleaser on back-to-school night, with parents waiting in long lines to get a slice.  

LAUSD Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho is also a big fan, requesting it for monthly principals’ meetings.

When a student reporter with several boxes of coffee cake returned to the University of Southern California campus, a security guard recognized the packaging and asked for a  piece.

The recipe is not the only thing that has changed. With the decrease in cafeteria-produced food, some schools have contracted the production process to a third-party vendor. The cake is still made from scratch in 25-30 school kitchens, Singh said. 

“Where we have the capacity, and where the staff is able to make it from scratch, we still encourage them to make it from scratch,” Singh said. 

Evelen Guirguis spreads brown sugar on the cake before putting it into the oven. (Jinge Li/The 74)

Guirguis is one of the many passionate individuals behind the creation of the legendary cake. Once a week, she and her staff bake nearly 600 coffee cakes before breakfast at 7:45 AM for the students at Marina del Rey Middle School and seven other LAUSD campuses.

From start to finish, it only takes her 30 minutes to bake two trays of fresh coffee cake. Baking the cake, she said, is her favorite part of her job.

When asked why the coffee cake is so popular, Guirguis said, “It’s because we make it with love.”

Learn how to make the legendary treat below:


Los Angeles Unified School District’s coffee cake is one of the most popular items on the district’s menu. Learn more about the 70 year old tradition, and see the full recipe, at

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