Mike Bishop and Ryan Pierson know the Spudnut Shop is something special. They’ve known it for years.
Both men — who have long histories and deep ties in the community — spent time there growing up.
Pierson is the son of teachers, and when his family ate out, they ate at local spots like the Spudnut Shop, which serves as an anchor of the Uptown Shopping Center in Richland.
And Bishop has sweet memories of grabbing a spudnut or two on the way to school or on a Saturday morning as a kid — a tradition he’s continued with his own children.
So now that the longtime friends are buying the business from the family that started it all, they aren’t planning to make big changes. Instead, they’re aiming to preserve the charm and the feeling of community that’s made the shop a local icon and an unqualified success for the last 75 years.
And, of course, they’re learning the ins and outs of creating the famed spudnuts, which are pastries made from potato flour.
“We’re observing the baking process. We’re frosting,” Bishop told the Journal. “We’re getting pretty darn good!”
The deal with Spudnut Shop owners Val and Douglas Driver is expected to close soon. It includes the Spudnut Shop, plus neighboring space holding a barber shop and a beauty salon.
The exact terms aren’t being disclosed, but Bishop and Pierson are using Small Business Administration financing.
The spudnut pastries that can draw long lines at the Richland shop were developed in 1940 by two brothers in Utah. The brothers franchised spudnuts after perfecting a dry mix.
Val Driver’s father, Barlow Ghirardo, and her uncle, Jerry Bell, opened the local Spudnut Shop in 1948. It started out in the Richland Wye, then moved to the Uptown 1 ½ years later, where it’s been ever since — and where it’s grown a loyal following.
Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, former secretary of defense and a Richland native, is among its avowed fans.
Val Driver started there when she was 15, eventually taking over the business. It's the only place she’s ever worked.
And, boy, does she work.
She logs long days at the shop, doing everything from baking to stocking to greeting customers. At age 69, she’s looking forward to retiring, traveling and leaving her shop in the hands of locals who care about its legacy.
“It took me a couple of years to find good people, who want to work it, who don’t want to make a lot of changes. I think they’re both good guys and both being from Richland – born and raised here, like me — that’s pretty exciting,” she said.
As she talked, she didn’t take a break from working. She prepped hamburger patties for the next day.
Bishop and Pierson have that same kind of work ethic. They’re spending this time as the deal closes working long hours at the shop themselves, learning every aspect of its operations.
They’re soaking up all the knowledge they can from Driver and they’re introducing themselves to customers.
Of course, some customers are already familiar faces — Bishop and Pierson are local guys, after all. They’re Tri-City natives who graduated from Richland High a year apart, in the late 1990s.
They chuckled as they told how a former P.E. teacher of theirs came into the shop the other day.
“I said, ‘You were one of my teachers!’” Pierson recalled. “Then one of the other staff members goes, ‘You were my teacher, too!’ And then Val goes, ‘You were my teacher, too!”
For all its growth, “when you’re talking to each other, having those conversations, you realize that the Tri-Cities isn’t all that big” and connections run deep, Bishop said.
After Bishop graduated from Richland High, he attended Northwest University in Kirkland and earned a business degree. He went onto work in management at Safeway and Target stores. He and his wife, Ronica, have nine children.
Pierson attended Columbia Basin College and also has extensive business experience, ranging from Costco to the auto industry to a previous stint in the restaurant world.
He and his wife, Bethany, have three kids.
The men are looking forward to continuing the shop’s family business tradition by having their own children frequent the place.
“My (youngest) are official taste testers. They are disappointed if dad doesn’t come home with spudnuts,” Bishop said.
“Basically, we’re captains of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory,” Pierson added with a laugh.
They also envision sponsoring sports teams and finding other ways to support and involve the shop in the community.
The shop has nine employees, who are staying on as Bishop and Pierson take over. The spudnut memorabilia on the walls is staying put, and so are the colorful decorations that Driver and her crew put up around holidays, such as the bunnies, flowers and Easter eggs that are brightening the shop right now.
They’ll still be owned by Driver, but Bishop and Pierson will be able to use them as part of the deal for the shop.
The men say they see opportunities for optimization and for modernization, such as updating the point-of-sale system to allow for options like Apple Pay. They may also bring the Spudnut Shop to social media, as another example.
But, for now, their top priority is learning the business — from the processes to the vendors, to who to call when a piece of machinery breaks, to the art of spudnut-making itself.
"Mike has the best (explanation),” Pierson said. “He says, ‘I want to get to a point where I can make a set just like my bakers can make. If I can make a full dough all the way to a spudnut and nobody can recognize the difference, then we’ve got ahold of this area of the business. We’re both invested in knowing every part of this business.”
Bishop and Pierson recently sat in a back booth at the Spudnut Shop, talking about the past and the future. A banner hung on the wall, celebrating the recent 75th anniversary.
The weight of that history — that legacy — isn’t lost on them. They embrace it and cherish it as they look ahead.
“We’re excited about the opportunity and grateful for the opportunity. We’re hopeful for continued community support and growth with this business,” Bishop said.
"Now,” Pierson added, “there’s a whole other generation, a whole other couple of families, that are able to carry this on.”
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