If you ask someone who has never been to El Dorado what they think about a Spudnut, you will likely get a quizzical look and a remark something like this, “I’ve never heard of a Spudnut -what in the world is it?” But ask anyone who has been to The Spudnut Shop in this south central Arkansas town that same question, and probably their response will be, “There is no better doughnut in the world, and if they weren’t so fattening, I’d eat them all the time!” For most of us who have lived in El Dorado but have moved away; when we return to visit family or friends, chances are one of the places we want to visit again will be this small locally owned franchise on West Faulkner Street.
Spudnuts were introduced to the citizens of El Dorado in the late 1940’s by the Stringfellow family. Daisy Stringfellow and her husband Howard were travelling out west and happened to have one of these unusually named doughnuts in a newly opened franchise and decided that this might be a good investment for them. The initial franchise was begun in 1940 in Salt Lake City, Utah by the Pelton brothers. They had discovered that by using potato flour as a base ingredient, a very tasty doughnut with an almost addictive quality could be made. A franchise could be purchased early on from the Pelton brothers for $1500 which included equipment and floor plans. After the Stringfellow’s purchased the franchise, Daisy managed the shop since Howard was employed at Monsanto Chemical Company and did not have the time necessary to get a new business started. They hired one employee, Bud McCann who became the on-site operating manager after he learned the formula from the Pelton’s and was able to make the Spudnuts quickly and efficiently. The original store was on Oak Street adjacent to Rumph Mortuary and within 2 blocks of the new Barton Junior High School and approximately 6 blocks from El Dorado High School on Northwest Avenue. In those days there was an open campus policy for lunch and large numbers of students chose The Spudnut Shop for a quick-lunch of a hamburger, fries, and a Coke with a Spudnut or two for dessert. Business was booming from the beginning since there was not a another doughnut shop in town.
Bud began his preparation each day at 3 AM of the hundreds of dozens of doughnuts needed for that day. By the time the shop opened at 5 AM he would have enough Spudnuts for the early morning customers and then had to continue cutting, frying, glazing and drying many more dozens throughout the day. The store was open every day except Sunday. I once asked Mr. Stringfellow approximately how many Spudnuts he sold each day to which he replied, “When the refineries in El Dorado were at full capacity back in the 1950’s, we made and sold 1200 dozen Spudnuts one Saturday!” When one considers that one man was responsible for making them all, that is a staggering number.
In the early 1970’s, Howard retired from Monsanto and could give more time to the business operation. His function seemed to be one of interacting with the regular customers and the newer ones who might stop in for a breakfast treat or perhaps a quick, light lunch. I always enjoyed talking with Mr. Stringfellow (I never called him Howard), because he was never at a loss for words and usually had a good story from the past. He and my favorite Uncle Dick (Smith) were good friends, and I could usually get him to tell me something about Uncle Dick that I could use to tease him when I visited with him at H & V Sporting Goods.
The Stringfellow’s sold the business to their daughter and son in law, Nancy and William Varnell in the mid-1970’s and the two of them managed the business until only recently. Bud McCann continued working another 10 years or so until his health caused him to finally retire. Although I’m sure the Spudnuts tasted exactly the same, it just didn’t seem right not seeing Bud over in the corner working his magic.
Whenever Cathy and I had friends visit from out-of-town we would frequently get a dozen Spudnuts for at least one breakfast we enjoyed with our company. During the decades of the 80’s and 90’s when we were making annual mission trips to Eastern Europe, we invited a number of pastors and wives to El Dorado and some of them came to have surgical procedures done. Each one of them got to enjoy a few Spudnuts during their visit and recovery. One couple, Costel and Mia Oglice who are Romanians and missionaries for Kay Arthur’s Ministry in Eastern Europe, always asked when they would see us in Budapest or Salzburg, “Did you bring with you any “Spad-a- nuts?!”
There is another Spudnut store in Magnolia which is only 30 miles away and these two may be the only remaining Spudnut stores in the South if not in the country. I have never visited the Magnolia store, nor have I desired doing that. The one in El Dorado has always been special, and in spite of the fact that now I might eat only one or two Spudnuts in an entire year, I still love them and they are a part of my happy memories of growing up in El Dorado.
Note: Some of the historical information for this remembrance was obtained from articles written by Joan Hershberger, staff writer for The El Dorado News Times.