Modern updates have come to Richland’s famed Spudnut Shop, but not from a voluntary desire to change the space that hadn’t been remodeled since 1965.
Valerie Driver, the second-generation owner of the iconic Richland restaurant, said she spent tens of thousands of dollars to update the shop after she and several neighbors in the Uptown Shopping Center were sued in federal court for allegations they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and its state-level counterpart, the Washington Law Against Discrimination.
Driver and her husband, along with six other businesses, were sued individually by a Benton County resident who uses a wheelchair. The man, who is described in the Driver suit as being a quadriplegic, visited the shopping center in January. He sued in March after encountering numerous barriers in businesses at the center.
The suit against the Drivers asserts they failed to comply with ADA requirements for parking, access, restrooms, doors, tables and counter heights.
Driver settled the case out of court in June for $6,000 and a commitment to bring the building up to compliance. Four of the six other cases remain open, according to federal court records. Efforts to reach the plaintiff’s attorney were unsuccessful.
“I’m wondering if businesses shouldn’t put on the front of the door, ‘no public restrooms,’ as sad as that is,” Driver said.
Driver said the suit alleged violations that, in some cases, were not on property she owned or controlled.
“The first 10 violations were like the parking lot and coming up to the front door, but we said we’re not in charge of that, that’s the city of Richland,” she said.
Driver, who also owns the neighboring spaces occupied by a hair salon and barber shop, said customers who use wheelchairs are not uncommon.
“We have customers that come in in wheelchairs all the time, and there’s never been a problem,” she said.
Another business owner affected by the ADA lawsuits reached a settlement agreement at the end of August, a week after the plaintiff’s original attorney withdrew from the case and a new attorney from Enabled Law Group filed his notice of appearance.
Vikki Butler, owner of Real Deals, a tenant in the Uptown facing Jadwin Avenue, was one of the defendants, along with her landlord.
Butler said the terms of her settlement prevent her from discussing the final outcome reached with Martin William Judnich, a Montana attorney admitted to the Washington State Bar Association in February 2020.
Court papers say he is with Enabled Law Group, a practice located at the same address as Judnich Law Office in Missoula, where the company’s website biography lists him as president of the firm, and says he’s been “helping the injured for 17 years.”
Neither Judnich nor Enabled Law Group could be reached to comment.
Lawsuit expenses add up
For Driver, the settlement was only part of the true cost of the suit against Spudnut. She paid $4,000 to her attorney and another $4,000 for architectural renderings.
Her building needed water and electrical work, part of which was needed to add an automatic front door. Driver estimates total costs will run as high as $85,000 for her portion of the building.
Spudnut Shop has occupied the same space in the Uptown since 1950, when it moved from the Richland Wye spot where Driver’s father and uncle first opened in 1948.
Driver said she missed out on construction grants and low-interest loans she would have qualified for due to being ineligible while in the midst of active litigation.
Driver is moving beyond the upheaval caused by the suit to focus on running the shop she’s worked at for 52 years and owned since 1999.
Closing in on nearly 75 years in business, Driver said the restaurant is thriving despite the impact of the pandemic.
Still, it is not selling as many spudnuts to office workers as it once did.
“When they’re all working from home now, they don’t need any refreshments,” she said. Spudnut is doing a quick business on many lunch items, like sandwiches, salads and burgers.
The price of a spudnut – which gets its name from potato flour – goes up every couple years.
Driver last raised prices in early 2020, charging $1 for a single spudnut and about $10 for a dozen.
“My baker’s dozen is $11,” she said. “I’m not getting up at that time to give stuff away.”
Driver starts making the spudnuts around midnight six nights a week, with shop hours 4 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The shop produces 150 to 250 dozen spudnuts a day, with the highest demand coming on Fridays and Saturdays.
Driver said the shop was once open round the clock. “The (Uptown) movie theater would get out and all the kids would come down here and wait for their parents to pick them up.”
Driver isn’t sure how long she’ll keep running the Spudnut Shop or what the future holds, but she’s grateful for loyal customers and loyal employees, many of whom have been visiting or working at the shop for many years. She won’t venture to guess how many spudnuts she’s made in her lifetime.
“It would make my head hurt.”
Leaning on state lawmakers
Butler, the owner of Real Deals, is looking to Olympia for relief from ADA lawsuits. She encourages other business owners to lean on state lawmakers to support House Bill 1574, expected to be taken up in the 2022 session.
Sponsored by local Reps. Matt Boehnke and Brad Klippert, both Kennewick Republicans, and 13 others, HB 1574 would give business owners a reasonable chance to make improvements prior to potential fines for ADA noncompliance.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was adopted in 1990 and allows businesses to be sued without warning for failing to accommodate those with disabilities, on the grounds of discrimination. The Tri-Cities Regional Chamber of Commerce also has voiced support for the bill, which came too late in the session to be heard in 2021.
The city of Richland was not sued, but design work is underway for improvements to the Uptown parking lot as part of the city’s 2020 capital improvement plan.
Daily and Monthly NewsSign up now!