El Dorado News-Times, Monday, December 23, 2013
A tasty, small-town secret
The Spudnut Shoppe continues to make sweet history
By Sherelle Black
(Editor’s Note: The following article is the 49 th in a series on established El Dorado businesses that have been in operation for 40 years or more.)
Besides potato flour and sugar, the recipe of a Spudnut still remains a mystery, making it one of the most talked about pastries in the City of El Dorado. It is perhaps one of the most best kept secrets in town, as thousands of people have entered the Spudnut Shoppe since its opening in 1948, to discover what makes this sweet ring-shaped fried cake different from the rest.
The Spudnut’s uniqueness is what attracted Daisy Stringfellow, original owner of the local shop, to stop and eat at a Spudnut Shoppe in Salt Lake City, Utah, while she was traveling to see relatives. Impressed with the taste, once Stringfellow got back to El Dorado in 1948, she opened up her own Spudnut Shoppe on Oak Street in a little brick building near the former Rumph Mortuary.
Over the years, Stringfellow made very few changes to the shop, only experimenting with providing lunch and extending hours. According to William Varnell, Stringfellow’s son-in-law, when the shop first opened, customers could walk in from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. and enjoy not only Spudnuts, but items hot off the grill such as hamburgers, fries and breakfast.
Varnell added that in the late 40s, Barton Junior High would allow their students to go off campus and eat, making the Spudnut Shoppe’s College burger a hot commodity. With the Spudnuts gaining popularity year after year, Stringfellow realized business was outgrowing the little brick building she had purchased. It was 20 years after its opening that the Spudnut Shoppe moved to its current location on West Faulkner Street. "It had better parking and a bigger location," Varnell said. With the new move came changes, such as cutting back on hours and getting rid of the grill.
Varnell would become owner of the local Spudnut Shoppe, along with his wife Nancy Varnell, in 1980. "In the mid-70s they (his in-laws) started thinking about retirement and it seemed like a good business opportunity," he said. "So, I moved here (from Texarkana) in ’75 and they sold the shop to me in 1980."
Varnell would work at the shop for around 32 years, selling the business in 2008. "I enjoyed working there, but I was ready for retirement," he said. When asked if he misses working at the shop, Varnell said, "I miss the people that would come in, especially the regular customers that you come into contact with on a regular basis. You get to know them pretty well." One thing Varnell doesn’t miss is the time consuming process of making a Spudnut.
"It’s pretty long because you have to let the dough rise after you mix it up and everything, and let it rise at least 45 minutes to an hour," he said. "And then, depending on the batch you are making and how many dozens you want to get out of it, you roll your dough out and then you take your Spudnut cutter and cut them out. That takes probably around 35 to 45 minutes. And then you put them on a rack — each rack holds three dozen — and you slip them into the proof box and let them sit there for another 35 to 45 minutes."
With customers arriving at 5:30 a.m. to get a Spudnut fresh out of the grease, Varnell and his Spudnut crew would have to arrive at the shop hours before. "You would have to get down there at 2:30 or 3 in the morning," he said. "I miss some of the people that use to come by, but I don’t miss getting up early to go to work. I could never get my sleep pattern together."
When asked if he still eats Spudnuts, Varnell points to his nearly flat stomach and says "I’m trying to watch my weight, but every once in a while I’ll stop by for a Spudnut. There’s no comparison between a regular doughnut and a Spudnut, but that’s just my opinion. I enjoy them; you can’t beat them."
"It was pretty successful under my in-laws, the Stringfellows," he said. "It became and — I don’t know if this is too strong of a word, but — iconic thing in El Dorado. And kids would grow up and go to college or for whatever reason move away from El Dorado, unfortunately, but when they come back to visit their parents they always come back and visit the Spudnut Shoppe."
Now, Nicolas Gonzalez and his wife Francisca own the coveted establishment, which produces around 1,500 to 2,000 Spudnuts a day. Nicolas was an employee of Anthony Forest for 14 years until March 2008 when his wife, who has worked at the Spudnut Shoppe for 18 years, convinced him to buy the shop.
While making a Spudnut may not be as rigorous as working with lumber, Gonzalez said running a Spudnut Shoppe still takes just as much dedication and work. Being the only Spudnut Shoppe in South Arkansas, besides Magnolia, Gonzalez said he aims to please his customers in any way he can.