2023 Veteran Feature: Jeff Ostlund, Sandy’s Donuts & Coffee Shop

Written by: Grant Ayers

Years of Service

Four Years

Branch Served

United States
Marine Corps
(Infantryman and Scott Sniper)

Years of Business Operation

Two Years

Raised in West Fargo, ND, Jeff Ostlund has always been an outdoor enthusiast at heart. From cycling with neighborhood friends to engaging in fishing, hunting, and hiking adventures, he’s most at home when immersed in nature, particularly beyond the city’s borders.

Academically, Jeff was deeply fascinated by two subjects: US History and Physical Education. His keen interest in military history, particularly the Revolutionary War, fueled a sense of duty and ambition that ultimately led him to enlist in the Marine Corps. Driven by a desire to push his boundaries and be the best version of himself, Jeff chose the Marines, renowned as the most challenging branch of the U.S. military. His decision was also inspired by a compelling urge to stand shoulder to shoulder with other young men and women risking their lives overseas, contributing his own efforts to make a meaningful difference. Jeff’s passion for the great outdoors and his dedication to serving his country define his character, making him not just a patriot but also a true lover of the life experiences that shape us.

Q&A with Jeff Ostlund

Q: How long have you been operating Sandy’s Donuts?

A: Sandy’s Donuts was founded in September 1983, and I’ve been running the show since October 2022.

Q: What was deployment like?

A: Deployments were definitely an experience. My first deployment was with the 31st MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit). We traveled to Okinawa, Japan; the Philippines; and Darwin, Australia. We spent most of our time training for different types of warfare. We also had the opportunity to train with the Filipino Marines and the Australian Army. Australia was a lot of fun, but the Philippines was the most eye-opening. For one, we had to travel there on the USS Germantown, an amphibious assault ship. I promise it sounds cooler than it is. Ship life is quite miserable, and we had to spend a month and a half onboard. At one point, we docked in Manila, and we were able to get off and explore the city. At first, it looked just like LA or any other big city in America. There were Dunkin’ Donuts, Chili’s, and California Pizza Kitchen. However, when we went deeper into the city, we saw all the poverty. Large communities of people lived under tarps, plywood, cardboard, and whatever other scraps they could find to make a shelter. It was very sad. My final deployment was for Operation Enduring Freedom. We were sent to a small base in Now Zad, Afghanistan. Our main mission was to provide security for the base, train and support the Afghan Army, and offer support to the locals. This deployment was probably the most eye-opening experience of my life. The locals lived in mud huts, some of which were partially destroyed from years of war. We would have locals, including children, come to our base after suffering major injuries from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that the Taliban had planted.

Q: What was your first job after service? What was that experience like?

A: After leaving the Marines, I started college at M State and worked part-time delivering library books to small-town libraries across Minnesota. This was a straightforward job; I just had to get up early. Once May arrived, I took a job as a farmhand near Breckenridge, MN. It was a great experience. I learned how to drive tractors, beet trucks, semis, and much more. The confidence I gained from the Marines directly correlated with this job.

Did You Know?
Sandy’s Donuts makes roughly 10,000 donuts per day!

Did you have any struggles after returning to civilian life?

A: Adjusting to civilian life seemed easy at first. I was thrilled to have my freedom back and to be able to spend time with my family and friends. However, that changed pretty quickly. My biggest challenge was finding my purpose. Civilian life, though fun, didn’t seem very rewarding for someone like me. I often felt like I wasn’t good enough, leading to anxiety, depression, and anger.

I still struggle occasionally, but I now know my purpose. I run a business that brings smiles to so many faces, provides jobs for around 120 employees, and makes a positive impact in our community daily.

Q: Tell me a bit about Sandy’s Donuts that readers may not be aware of.

A: Sandy’s Donuts was the creation of my grandfather, Sandy (Sanfred) Ostlund, and his love for making donuts. In 1983, Sandy lost his job running a trucking company. He was 55 years old and had a difficult time finding a new job. A good friend suggested that he open a donut shop. You might find this to be an odd suggestion, but Sandy’s friends and family knew that he loved making donuts. When Sandy was a child, his mother taught him how to make donuts in a cast-iron pan on a coal-burning stove using her very own buttermilk donut recipe. As an adult, he would often make them for his friends, who found them delicious. It so happened that the bakery in West Fargo, where Sandy lived, had closed down and was sitting empty. After some research, the idea for Sandy’s Donuts was conceived. He borrowed a little money, bought some equipment, and started making donuts on September 13, 1983. It was an instant hit.

Sandy’s dream was to have a mom-and-pop-style business where he made donuts at night and his wife, Donna, with some help, would sell them during the day. The demand for donuts was incredible, and to keep up, they quickly had to hire more help. They were so busy that many times they did not even make it home but had to take a nap in the back room in sleeping bags. Their son (my father), Mark, heard about this and decided to leave college and come home to help out with the business.

The three of them made a good team, and Sandy’s continued to grow. They moved to a new location just a few blocks away on December 29, 2002. This new location, a former Hardee’s building, gave them twice the space and much-needed parking, and is now their flagship location. At this time, Mark took over running the business. Donna retired, but Sandy kept on doing what he loved. He slowed down but was still an important part of the business. On October 13, 2008, Sandy passed away from complications of a stroke he had suffered just a few months earlier. He had still been working every day right up until the stroke.

The story does not end here. Sandy was dearly missed, but Mark knew he had to keep his dad’s dream going. He wouldn’t be a very popular guy in West Fargo if he let it fail. Over the next few years, the business really started to grow, and on September 22, 2014, a second Sandy’s location on Broadway in Fargo was opened. With the addition of this new location, they soon realized that the small kitchen in West Fargo, where all the donuts were made, would not be able to keep up with the demand. In 2015, a 2,000-square-foot kitchen addition gave them the needed production space. On September 11, 2019, a third Sandy’s location opened on 45th Street in Fargo, in Osgood.

Sandy’s Donuts, which started as a dream after the unfortunate event of a job loss, has become a successful business with over 120 employees, three retail locations, and around 80 wholesale locations. Thank you, Grandpa, for pursuing your dream and for leaving us this legacy!

Did You Know?
This year, Sandy’s Donut is celebrating 40 years of business!

Q: Did you ever plan to own a business before enlisting in service?

A: When I enlisted in the Marines, I really had no idea what I wanted to do post-military. However, I did know that I didn’t want to work at Sandy’s. I was aware of the sacrifices my family had made to keep the business going, and I wanted to take a different path.

"What makes us so special is our great variety of donuts (over 75 different kinds), the best-tasting donuts, the sense of happiness they bring to so many people, and how convenient they are. Sandy's Donuts has not only been awarded the best donut shop in Fargo and the Red River Valley but also for all of North Dakota."

My perspective changed during my time at NDSU. It was there that I discovered my love for business and entrepreneurship. Initially, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to start my own business or join the family business with the eventual aim of owning and operating it. However, once I understood my purpose and the impact I could make, my vision became clear.

Q: What does a normal day at Sandy’s Donuts look like for you?

A: Although no two days are the same, a typical day for me is usually spent in the office. My activities range from working on strategic business development and R&D to creating engaging content for social media, answering emails, and focusing on sales.

When I’m not in the office, you might find me taste-testing new donuts, making deliveries, actually making the donuts, donning the caveman costume, or brainstorming over a good cup of coffee. If you’re lucky, you might even see me behind the front counter!

Q: What were your friends and family’s reactions when you told them you were pursuing service?

A: My friends and family were very proud and supportive when I decided to enlist in the Marines, and the same goes for when I took over the business.

2023 Veteran Feature Jeff Ostlund

A Community-Oriented Mindset

"We donate our leftover donuts all across the community. From homeless shelters and food banks to hospitals and nursing homes. Giving back means so much to us, whether it is donating donuts, money, or items for a local benefit. We try to give back as much as we can." Jeff Ostlund,

Q: Has your service experience changed your business mindset?

A: My military experience definitely changed my business mindset. I learned how to be a better leader, improved my confidence and decision-making abilities, and became more resilient. Without my military experience, I do not believe I would be where I am today.

Q: Have you found any specific resources or support networks that have been instrumental in your entrepreneurial journey as a Veteran?

A: The North Dakota Small Business Development Center has been a great resource for me.

Q: What was the hardest challenge for you to date regarding Sandy’s Donuts?

A: Although I did not start the business, the hardest challenge for me has always been maintaining an appropriate work-life balance. I am married and have two children, and juggling a business and a family can be very difficult.

Q: What does being a Veteran symbolize to you?

A: Being a veteran, to me, means having a commitment to something bigger than yourself and a willingness to put your country before your own needs.

Q: Who are your biggest mentors that you can attribute some of your successes to?

A: There have been many influential individuals in my life, but the most significant would have to be Mark Knutson, founder of the Fargo Marathon. Mark was a visionary, leader, mentor, encourager, confidence builder, and friend.

Mark was always encouraging and instilled confidence in me. He genuinely believed in me, which in turn helped me believe in myself. Whether I was going to run a business, a marathon, or start a family, Mark was always there to encourage me.

Mark passed away this past summer in a tragic bike accident, but I haven’t forgotten what he taught me. I plan to continue pushing myself in all aspects of my life. Thank you, Mark, for all you have done for me and so many others.

Q: What advice do you have for business owners in the area who are just beginning their endeavors?

A: Running a business can be fun, miserable, stressful, and laid-back—all at the same time. There will be days when you want to quit and days when you couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Remember the good days to help you get through the bad ones and never quit on a bad day. If you’re still ready to quit on a good day, then maybe it’s time to hang it up. Until then, keep pushing and don’t give up. The light at the end of the tunnel is closer than you think, and the struggles you go through now will better prepare you for the future.

2023 Veteran Feature Jeff Ostlund

"We are currently working on shippin donuts nationally and are hoping to launch them at the beginning of 2024!

Q: What advice do you have for others considering enlisting in service?

A: For those considering joining the military, you should know that it will be much different than you might expect. Do your research on each branch and make sure you’re joining for the right reasons. Even though I was a Marine, one piece of advice I often give is to consider joining the Air Force!

Sandy's Donuts & Coffee Shop

[email protected]
Facebook | /SandysDonuts
Instagram | @sandys.donuts
Twitter | @sandysdonuts
301 Main Ave W West Fargo, ND 58078

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Grant is a Senior Editor at Spotlight Media. Grant writes for Fargo INC! and Bis-Man INC!