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The Spudnuts Saga: A Bite of Donut History

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Tue, Mar 22, 2011 at 9:46 AM

click to enlarge JIM THURMAN
  • Jim Thurman
What was the first nationwide donut chain to reach Los Angeles? Krispy Kreme? You're not even trying. Dunkin' Donuts? Not from around here, are you? Winchell's?, Yum Yum? Getting closer, but no. The answer: Spudnuts.

Brothers Al and Bob Pelton were working as an appliance salesman and drug store clerk, respectively, when they were inspired to create a new kind of donut. They first tried a mix that used potato water, but it didn't achieve the hoped for results. A mashed potato mix tested better and the spudnut was born in 1940.

click to enlarge JIM THURMAN
  • Jim Thurman
Soon, they developed a dry mix and began franchising the operation. Headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, Spudnuts quickly spread across the country. By 1949, there were Spudnuts locations on Pico Boulevard and Figueroa Street as well as in North Hollywood, Glendale, Bell Gardens and Bellflower.

By the early 1950s, the chain had over 350 stores with the slogan of "Coast to Coast, from Alaska to Mexico." They even had their own anthropomorphic mascot, Mr. Spudnut. Imagine Mr. Peanut, only a donut, minus the monocle and doffing his top hat instead of wearing it.

In 1964, Spudnuts was selling an estimated 400,000 donuts daily, when the company came up with a process to flash-freeze their dough. The future looked bright. In late 1968, a Canadian company bought Spudnuts from the Pelton brothers. At the time, there were 315 Spudnut franchise-holders including a recent expansion to Japan.

Three years later, Dakota Bake N Serve Inc. bought Spudnuts. This is where the cruller crumbled.

The owner of Dakota Bake N Serve got caught up in a huge, proposed marina development in the Sacramento River Delta, selling all of his stock to a promoter in exchange for tax-free bond notes that proved worthless. When the promoter was convicted on several charges of fraud and conspiracy in 1979, it was the end of Spudnuts as a chain. Existing stores were left to fend for themselves.

Numbers vary, but it's believed roughly three dozen Spudnuts locations survive, scattered across the United States. Remarkably, 10 of those are in Los Angeles County with three in Los Angeles and two in the San Fernando Valley. There's even a Spudnuts museum in Lafayette, Indiana.

click to enlarge Spudnuts apple fritter - JIM THURMAN
  • Jim Thurman
  • Spudnuts apple fritter

2011 has seen the Spudnuts name return to the news. In January, Sarah Palin referenced them, assuming they were a mom-and-pop store rather than the lingering outpost of a former national chain. This month, the Spudnuts name came up, literally, in a lawsuit when MP-OTHA Corporation, which says it owns the rights to the Spudnuts name, sued Douglas Bagley, who has been selling a reformulated version of the original donut mix.

Will a spudnut grace the cover of the Weekly with a corseted model? Not likely. Will they make the Stan's fans and Donut Man supporters forsake their favorites? No. But aficionados claim spudnuts are lighter and fluffier than those made with traditional flour. Put their claims to the test at one of the locations below -- but make sure you're getting a true spudnut by asking which are made with potato flour and avoiding the cake donuts (usually made with conventional flour).

Spudnuts Donuts: 3001 S. Figueroa St.; (213) 749-0678.

Spudnuts Donuts: 4949 W. Slauson Ave.; (323) 292-8770.

Spudnut Donuts No. 4: 11285 Venice Blvd.; (310) 397-1218.

Spudnuts Donuts: 8225 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park; (818) 348-5054.

Spudnuts Donuts: 10244 Reseda Blvd., Northridge; (818) 832-1176.

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