For a short time in the early 1950s, Bastrop citizens were treated to the unique taste of doughnuts made from potato flour in an authentic Spudnut Shop.
Readers of the Morehouse Enterprise got their first hint of the new business when they opened the Feb. 19, 1952 edition and found a simple ad proclaiming “SPUDNUT IS COMING” in bold-faced type.
The Bastrop Clarion announced the grand opening of the local Spudnut Shop in the March 7 edition. The shop was owned and operated by A.L. McClanahan, and was located at 117 North Franklin Street. The grand opening on March 8 would include free Spudnuts and coffee.
“We would like everyone in Bastrop to try Spudnuts,” McClanahan is quoted, “because they’re truly ‘America’s finest food confection’ -- a new and exciting taste thrill for every member of the family.
“Except for physical appearance, Spudnuts have no relation whatever to other similar shaped products. Spudnuts are large, fluffy, and airy, and are never soggy or greasy. They are made of a special blend of finest wheat flour, dehydrated potatoes ... milk solids, powdered whole eggs, and other vital ingredients -- all mixed and blended perfectly to the secret Pelton formula.
“Spudnuts are ‘raised’ in a proof box, just like all finest pastries; then, they are cooked, at an exact temperature, in highest quality shortenings, and finally, glazed, sugar-coated or chocolate-iced.
“We’ll also make many Spudnut varieties -- all made with the famous Spudnut mix to secret Pelton formulas, and the best-tasting pastries you’ve ever seen.”
Bob and Al Pelton of Salt Lake City had invented the Spudnut around 1940. The story of their successful business venture was recounted in the April 1952 edition of Mechanix Illustrated, just a few weeks after the Bastrop shop opened.
The article was titled “Their Potatoes Make Dough,” and the Peltons appeared on the magazine cover with a huge pile of pre-pastry tubers.
The Peltons had started working on their own recipe after eating potato-based doughnuts in Germany. They had tried several ideas -- from dough flavored with potato water to mashed potatoes -- before hitting on the dry potato mix that would make it possible to start a franchise in 1946.
According to Mechanix Illustrated, anyone could purchase a Spudnut Shop franchise for $1,750. The franchise cost included equipment and a half-ton of the Peltons’ potato mix, enough to make 1,650 Spudnuts. The owner had to pay for the set-up and decoration of his store, bringing the total start-up cost to approximately $5,000.
By 1952 Spudnut Shops had opened in 37 states, Canada, Alaska and Hawaii.
“This, according to Mr. McClanahan, proves the goodness of Spudnuts more powerfully than the strongest advertising campaign, because after the millions of dozens are sold, the first Spudnut customers are still coming back for more.”
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The Clarion published an ad for the grand opening with the iconic Mr. Spudnut looking dapper in bow tie and top hat. Children who came to the opening were promised free Mr. Spudnut hats.
“Come and be our guests as another beautiful Spudnut Shop opens ... You’ll see genuine Spudnuts made, you’ll taste their tantalizing goodness -- and then, you’ll understand how delicious, how honestly DIFFERENT Spudnuts are!
“An eating delight for every member of the family ... Fluffy as a cloud, energy-packed, digestible! No wonder Spudnuts are America’s Finest Food Confection.”
The Clarion also advertised four varieties of Spudnuts to be sold at the Bastrop shop: Spudnut Buttons & Bows (“A luscious taste and appetite surprise!”), Spudnut Persians (“Crispy, melt-in-your-mouth goodness, tangy cinnamon layers, smooth frostings! Delicious!”), Spudnut Bismarks (“Tender-crisp crust, with tangy fresh-flavored filling!”) and Spudnut Spud-Overs (“A light flaky crust surrounding a generous portion of Spud-Apples, blended with an exciting selection of rare spices!”).
Spudnuts sold for 50 cents a dozen. Each of the varieties sold for six cents apiece, except for the Spud-Overs, which came in pairs for 15 cents.
For unknown reasons, McClanahan sold the shop just three months later. The Enterprise reports on May 13, 1952 the shop had been purchased by Mr. and Mrs. S.E. Hendricks of El Dorado, Ark.
“In connection with their opening Mr. and Mrs. Hendricks are offering free ice cream cones the balance of the week ... They make their own ice cream, also serve sundaes and milk shakes. They are also specializing in cold late lunches and home-baked ham.”
Here the newspaper trail ends, and no one seems to remember how long the Bastrop Spudnut Shop remained in business.
Charles Johnson said he has lived in Bastrop since 1945 and remembers eating at the Spudnut Shop a few times as a teenager.
“I was just a youngster around town, but I remember the Spudnut Shop,” said Johnson. “They put that in right across from the old bank. It was a delight to go in there and get a Spudnut, if you happened to have a dime in your pocket.
“The shop didn’t stay there a long time. I don’t think it ever caught on 100 percent -- it never was really flooded with people.”
The Pelton brothers sold the franchise upon retirement, to a company that did not last very long. Today it is impossible to buy a Spudnut franchise, but an estimated 37 Spudnut Shops remain in business in eight states. Since the original Pelton mix is no longer available, these shops have had to make slight changes to their recipes.
Page 3 of 3 - How good were Spudnuts? The author decided to visit the nearest surviving Spudnut Shop for a taste of their “tantalizing goodness."
The El Dorado Spudnut Shop has been open for more than half a century, and has become something of a legend in southern Arkansas.
According to a 2004 article in the El Dorado News-Times, longtime manager Bud McCann learned to make Spudnuts from the Pelton brothers back in the early days of the franchise.
Visiting the El Dorado Spudnut Shop is like stepping back in the time: An original neon Spudnut sign hangs over the entrance, and the exterior wall features the late-era logo of a doughnut with a bite taken out. Inside the shop, a portrait of Mr. Spudnut in all his glory hangs above the dining area.
Only the prices seem to have changed. Spudnuts sold for 50 cents a dozen more than half a century ago; today they are 50 cents apiece. It’s a small price to pay for the melt-in-your-mouth goodness of America’s finest food confection.