The rise lf what was once the largest doughnut empire in the United States started when Bob Pelton, a regular drugstore clerk from Salt Lake City, returned home from his European tour as a baker in the U.S. navy in the 1930s.
With potato doughnuts on his mind.
Well, surely not an original idea, as Germans like to start their pre-Lenten season with a variety of so-called fastnachts, basically yeast-raised fritters often made with mashed potatoes.
And similar recipes had already migrated thanks to the German immigrants in Pennsylvania.
Our Bob, however, had the idea to christen the doughnuts “spudnuts,” a decidedly more American-sounding name, and to rise. A lot.
It was 1940, the same year Dick and Mac McDonald opened the first McDonald’s restaurant, when Bob and his brother, Al, opened the first Spudnuts shop in their hometown, Salt Lake City.
Thus the Peltons started their community-friendly business by getting local boys to sell spudnuts door-to-door and, at Halloween, they doled out their doughnuts to trick-or-treaters.
In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, local resident David Fisher fondly recalled, “We would always take a couple of different Halloween masks with us so we could go back two or three times. Spudnuts were better than a crummy candy bar.”
In any case, just from the beginning, the brothers had ambitious projects: after starting with a regular mashed potato doughnut, they switched to a dry mix with potato flour that could be made in enormous batches and shipped to every outlets around the nation.
And thus, by the 1950s, business was booming at more than 350 Spudnuts stores across the continental United States, including Alaska, and Mexico.
Mr. Spudnut, a bow-tied doughnut, served as the mascot for the burgeoning chain, hawking doughnuts made literally with a special blend of finest wheat flour, powdered whole eggs, specially prepared potatoes, milk solids and other vital ingredients, all mixed and blended perfectly to the secret Pelton formula.
Despite by the 1960s other doughnut chains were gaining a foothold, (including Dunkin’ Donuts, which opened its first store in 1950 in Quincy, Massachusetts, and opened around 100 shops over the next decade, and Krispy Kreme, which launched in 1937 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with a yeasted dough recipe that is also rumored to contain mashed potatoes) none could match Spudnuts. In 1964, in fact, the business was selling a whopping 400,000 spudnuts a day, and the franchise made it as far as Japan.
Despite It seemed like nothing could stop the global march of Spudnuts, in 1968 the Pelton brothers sold the business to National Oven Products, Inc. And, three years later, the corporation sold it to Dakota Bake N Serve.
However, in the 1970s, the new Spudnuts owner became entangled in a controversial development project that resulted in multiple charges of conspiracy and fraud and, as a result, it was 1979 when the parent company collapsed entirely, taking Spudnuts with it and leaving franchise operators without any of the trademarked.
Even though the dissolution of the central organization should have spelled the end for Spudnuts, a number of franchisees soldiered on, and some opted simply to change the name, such as a former Spudnuts shop in Illinois that now sells potato doughnuts under the name “Tadoughs.”
On the other hand, other franchisees, including a Spudnut Shop in Richland, Washington that has been owned by the same family since 1948, stuck with the name and improvised their own versions of spudnuts.
At one point, a Spudnuts shop popped up even in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
In 2011, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin famously declared that the country needed a “Spudnut moment,” mistakenly believing that the doughnut shops represented small, family-owned businesses rather than the scattered remnants of a colossal business.
Johnny O’s Spudnuts currently has two branches in Logan, Utah and Farmington, New Mexico and, like the Pelton brothers, his founder Larson dreams of spreading spudnut shops all over the country again, partly because he believes the interest in donuts has never really waned.
And making spudnuts from scratch is certainly a project, but it’s well worth doing whether it’s Halloween or not.
The internet is full of recipes for spudnuts and similars, many of which were passed down through old family traditions. Despite mashed potatoes and potato flour are a common theme, the recipes range from donuts, which owe their rise to chemical leavening agents, to donuts with yeast, while some spudnuts call for butter, and old-fashioned recipes often choose to shorten it.
Although people tried to copy it, the original recipe remains a well-kept secret, but the yeast-raised donuts contain eggs and owe some of their signature flavor to an array of spices including vanilla, nutmeg and mace.
Images from web – Google Research