Spudnut Survivor

A Trip to Richland Can Take Doughnut Lovers Back in Time

Story and photos by Rodger Nichols

The Spudnut shop in Richland, Washington, is nearly 75 years old. Spudnut locations in The Dalles and Hood River closed decades ago.

Before Colonel Sanders discovered his 11 herbs and spices or McDonald's raised its first golden arch, Spudnuts were food franchise superstars.

In the post-World War II era, former soldiers were eager to open their own stores selling doughnuts made with potato flour. For a modest investment in equipment, a few sacks of mix, a lease on a storefront, and a small franchise fee, they could start a business.

Many did in small towns across America, including Hood River and The Dalles.

The restaurant franchise that once boasted it reached “Coast to coast, Alaska to Mexico,” with more than 500 outlets, now musters fewer than 40 storefronts. Most are in California—part of a small attempt to revive the franchise.

There is, however, a haven in the Northwest for those who remember the Spudnuts of yore. The Spudnut Shop of Richland, Washington, celebrates 74 years in business this month.

Much of its success can be traced to keeping it in the family. Val Driver owns the shop that was founded by her father, Barlow Ghirardo, and her uncle, Jerry Bell, in 1948.

The store has the kind of repeat business other shops would kill for. Some customers have been regulars for more than 50 years.

It’s the kind of store where customers pick up the coffee pot and help servers keep up with the crowd, where the newest employee has been there five years and most are well into double digits.

If a regular doesn’t show up for more than a day or two in a row, they are likely to receive half a dozen phone calls from fellow customers checking on their welfare.

That loyal following helped Spudnut survive the pandemic, as Manager Lucinda Lopez told a reporter for KEPR television last March.

“We had dropped down about 30% to 50 percent, but we just held on,” she said. “We didn’t want to give up. We had folks that supported us and kept coming in to pick up carryout orders. People kept telling us ‘We’re going to keep supporting you, we don’t want this place to go down, we’re going to keep supporting.’ So, they kept coming. When we went to Phase 2 finally, it was awesome. We almost cried.”

The Spudnut franchise story begins in 1939 with brothers Bob and Al Pelton, who had a modest doughnut shop in Salt Lake City and were looking to improve the product. They liked the effect of adding mashed potatoes to various flour formulas. They ultimately developed a dry flour to replace the nightly drudgery of peeling, boiling, and mashing potatoes.

Even so, making Spudnuts is not for the faint of heart.

Work starts at 11 P.M. the previous night by opening a 50-pound sack of mix and making the dough that has to rise before it can be rolled out and cut. Each sack produces 50 dozen Spudnuts. Cooks prepare 200 to 350 dozen Spudnuts, Spuddies (cake doughnuts), and Spuffins every day except Sunday when the store is closed.

Richland’s Spudnut shop is at 228 Williams Blvd. It is open Monday through Friday from 4 A.M. to 6 P.M. and Saturdays from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those traveling from The Dalles and arriving in the afternoon may want to phone ahead and reserve some of their favorite Spudnut varieties. Even at its heavy production level, the store sometimes sells out early.

The Local Connection

Spudnuts in The Dalles didn’t have the staying power of the Richland shop, but it was around for nearly 15 years. Many local folks remember it well.

Otto and Iona Keil took over an existing restaurant at 310 East Second Street - where the Canton Wok is today—and it became Otto’s Ice Cream Center.

Spudnuts await hungry customers. Val Driver, right, owns the shop in Richland.

The Keils sold the restaurant in 1954 to Conrad Boede, who added the Karmelkorn and Spudnut franchises.

Conrad was a perfectionist, remembers Norlene Durfee Barnes. Her parents, Jack and Claudia Durfee, bought the store—by then called Otto’s Spudnut Shop—in late 1960.

“He worked with the maple and chocolate frostings and found better icing than that from the factory,” Norlene says. “There were people who would come here from Hood River to buy Spudnuts, even though they had a store in Hood River because they liked the frostings better here.”

A news item in The Chronicle for January 2, 1969, announced the store—“long a favorite coffee stop for shoppers and business people in The Dalles”— had been closed because the work was too much for Claudia following the death of her husband the previous May.

The 1960s and 1970s saw a steady reduction in the number of Spudnut shops, as other franchises with stronger payments to the license holder were able to buy market share with expensive television ad campaigns.

To place an order at the Spudnut shop in Richland, call (509) 943-3000.