Popular Kennewick doughnut shop lives up to its name
A Kennewick business that frequently sells out of its tasty, doughy treats lives up to its name.
Popular Donuts at 101 N. Union St. serves up daily a variety of shapes and unique flavors, frequently selling out toward week’s end.
“All hours listed are until sold out,” it warns on its Facebook page, and it’s not unusual for the doughnut shop to sell out before noon.
The shop serves up a wide assortment of classic glazed, sprinkled, powdered, sugared, raspberry, lemon or Bavarian cream-filled doughnuts in an array of color and flavor glazes, drizzles, themes and shapes. Plus there are maple (bacon optional), buttermilk and chocolate bars, apple fritters, cinnamon rolls, braids and doughnut holes.
Less known varieties include French crullers and butterflies, which feature a smearing of creamy peanut butter, chocolate fudge and chopped peanuts sprinkled on top.
The doughnut shop also bakes pastries, such as croissants and turnovers, brews drip coffee blends to wash it all down and offers seating for those looking to dine in.
Doughnuts cost $1.50 each, or $15 for a dozen.
Aside from the diverse menu, what makes Popular Donuts so highly sought after by Tri-Citians?
“The secret is there is no secret,” said owner John Peck. “We make them fresh in the morning. I’ve been doing this for 40 years.”
Longtime doughnut bakers
Owned and operated by Peck, his wife Samath and their son, Steven and his wife Caitlin Tucker, Popular Donuts started in Walla Walla in 1999 when a friend was looking to sell their doughnut shop.
John and his family subsequently opened the Kennewick location, tucked into a strip mall in suite 204, in 2005.
He got his start making doughnuts in Texas in 1983 at a shop his uncle managed.
He and Samath, who immigrated to the U.S. from Cambodia in 1979, left their home country to escape the Cambodian genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge (Communist party), which took over Cambodia in 1975 and was responsible for the death of nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population.
John said he would stop by his uncle’s shop regularly for doughnuts and one day his uncle asked him to fill in.
John was reluctant.
“He pushed me to try and do it, so I did, and it didn’t come out right, but that’s OK. From there on out, I would just go there every weekend and make doughnuts,” he said.
In 1985, he and Samath moved to California where he took up work at a Winchell’s Donut House franchise until they saved up enough money and the opportunity came along to buy the Walla Walla shop.
When asked how many doughnuts they make a day, the family looked to one another for several long moments trying to come up with an estimate before John suggested with a smile, “Too many to count.”
Each day starts for John, Samath, Steven and Caitlin at 2 a.m., two hours before the shop opens.
Some of the specialty varieties like crullers and fritters, they only make on weekends.
Due to how popular the Popular Donut treats are, shop owners recommend customers needing large quantities, custom orders or simply craving particular varieties to call the day before to place an order.
Apple fritters, maple bars, butterflies and French crullers are their most popular varieties.
Hanford workers, Kennewick police officers and construction workers are their typical 4 a.m. customers.
Steven said most people don’t know the shop offers Kennewick police officers and first responders free doughnuts during business hours.
The shop experienced a bit of a slump at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, with distance learning and remote work keeping most people home but has since seen business ramp back up.
Despite being surrounded by doughnuts day in and day out, the family hasn’t tired of the sweet treat – John still eats several a day.
His favorites are maple bars and fritters; Samath loves doughnut holes; Steven’s go-to is a classic glaze; and Tucker enjoys blueberry.
Dottie Szendre of Kennewick, a retired schoolteacher, comes in every Sunday after church for her favorites: chocolate French crullers, apple fritters and cream-filled doughnuts.
“Those are my three go-tos, and I have not found fritters or crullers as good anywhere. It’s a great place to go and I just love to support the hometown and family places,” she said.
“I go to Mass, then go down Clearwater and stop at Li’l Firehouse Coffee and get a mocha … then go to Popular Donuts. I bring mine home and sit and read the paper … but even the people you meet going in and out have the best smiles – such a great atmosphere.”
Szendre said her grandkids love them too.
With their ongoing success, Steven said they are looking into the possibility of opening a second shop in Pasco or Richland, but finding a building with a drive-thru window has been challenging in the current market.
In the meantime, Popular Donuts can be found on occasion as buns at Hot Mess Burgers and Fries and J. Bookwalter’s Nonfiction Food Truck.
The most recent collaboration with Hot Mess was called The Cinn – a chili cheeseburger on a cinnamon roll doughnut.
The sweet and salty fusion is a crowd pleaser, John said.
The family expressed their gratitude for the Tri-City community’s support over the years: “We really appreciate them for making us popular,” Steven said.
Popular Donuts: 101 N. Union St., Suite 204, Kennewick; 509-783-0843; Facebook.