Palin says U.S. needs 'Spudnut' moment (w/ gallery)

RICHLAND -- Jim Dyson of Richland is not a Sarah Palin fan, he admits.

But there is one thing he agrees with her on.

"I agree with her on the value of the Spudnut Shop," Dyson said Thursday while sipping coffee inside the small Richland doughnut shop.

Whatever their political persuasions, customers in the longtime eatery in the Uptown Shopping Center felt the same way.

Former vice presidential candidate Palin brought the local landmark up during a Wednesday night interview on Fox News.

She was sharing her views on President Obama's State of the Union address, in which he urged the nation to aspire to "Sputnik moment(s)."

Obama alluded to the Soviet Union's 1957 launch of the first satellite to go into orbit, which shocked Americans and spurred the nation to step up efforts in the race to space.

Similarly, Obama advocated government spending now to spur research and development, particularly in science and technology.

But in her interview, Palin said the country really needs "Spudnut" moments. She praised the owners of the family-owned business for "not looking for government to bail them out."

"It's just hard-working, patriotic Americans in this shop," she said.

Thursday morning, Spudnut customers gave a variety of views on Palin's opinion as well as their own reasons for supporting the local franchise that Barlow Ghirardo and his brother Jerry Bell started in 1948.

Ghirardo's daughter, Val Driver, bought it from her father in 1999 and continues to run it.

Once a big chain, Spudnut franchises have dwindled to about three dozen nationwide. All take their name from the potato flour used in their doughnut dough.

"(Palin's comment is) good publicity for Richland and the Tri-Cities," customer Bob Armstrong said. A self-proclaimed Palin fan, he said Palin's call to foster small business was a "wonderful idea."

He said he and his wife, Barb, make the trip from West Richland to support the business. "They do a good job," he said

"All the waitresses are really friendly," Barb added.

Dyson said he comes to Spudnut about five times a week, even though he has to limit his Spudnut consumption because he is diabetic.

"I come to drink coffee and hang out and read," said Dyson, a retired minister. He also writes -- usually for funeral services he plans to present.

"I've also made a lot of friends," Dyson said, including with other longtime Spudnut customers. In 2009, he even officiated at a wedding there at the request of one of the regulars.

"We sat around the table, the bride and groom and about four or five guests," he recalled. "It was sort of a fun event."

It's that sense of familiarity that makes the shop a special place to frequent and to work, said waitress Sheree Klug.

Her mother worked there for decades. She has worked there about 10 years. Her daughter, Hannah Schultz, started working there in high school, then left to go to college and start a family. She's now back behind the brown laminate counter.

Schultz's two children are next in line, Klug said with a smile.

"You can come in here and you know you'll see the same people every day," Klug said. "It's like family-oriented."

The owner, Driver, treats the staff like family too, she said. "Val treats each and everyone of us like she wants to be treated, like people, not like numbers."

Dyson values the doughnut shop's noncorporate atmosphere as well.

"It's independent. It's not a chain," he said. "It's local. That's just a good feeling."