Linda Silva talked to her future husband, Franklin, for the first time at Los Banos Donuts.
“He just got up from where he was sitting and came over and said hello. To give up your seat at the donut shop was a big deal, so I knew he was serious,” she explained. Like many Los Banos residents, she has fond memories of the shop owned by former Los Banos residents Ralph and Wallean Biederman.
“I was coaching my son at the time, and we would go in there after practice. It was a great bonding experience,” said Los Banos High School teacher Randy Nocito. “In a way it was kind of like church. Everyone had their own seats, and they didn’t want to give them up easily.”
“When Leon Martin was the high school principal, he would send me there sometimes to get doughnuts for the staff. Ralph was always there and was always helpful and friendly,” said Los Banos High School administrative secretary Mary Ann Peluso.
Local resident Dennis Soares said: “I remember it was always crowded, and you better get there early if you wanted a good selection. Lots of time they were sold out by noon or earlier.”
Los Banos Donuts opened in 1976 by Ralph and Wallean Biederman.
“We both had a love for doughnuts, so it was the perfect shop for us,” said Ralph Biederman in a phone interview from his home in Turlock. “We would open every day at 2 a.m. Our closing time was 2 p.m., but most of the time we were sold out by 11 a.m. It was just a great experience for us.”
The shop was along Pacheco Boulevard (Highway 152) — the perfect spot to attract people going to the coast and the Bay Area from the Valley.
“Travelers would start arriving as soon as we opened. Usually farmers and other early-risers would come in between 5 and 6 a.m. We got to know our customers on a first name basis,” Biederman said.
Locals used to hang out there during their coffee breaks, but he had some unusual visitors too. Once, about 3 a.m., M.C. Hammer stopped in after a concert in Fresno. “He was on his way back to the Bay Area and felt like a doughnut. He even danced for us in the shop,” Biederman recalled.
Many customers came from all over as word spread about the Los Banos Donuts shop.
“I remember we were shipping doughnuts as far away as New York. We had customers from Australia and other parts of the world. It was pretty much that way for all the years we were in business. We had great customers and that made it good,” he said. “We enjoyed meeting people from across the world and eating the doughnuts.”
Their best selling doughnuts were glazed and plain cake. Wallean Biederman’s favorite was the powdered sugar cake doughnut, while her husband liked the devil’s food with chocolate frosting.
Ralph Biederman also remembers a near disastrous time for the shop. In 1979, one of our employees fell asleep and let the doughnut fryer heat up to much. A fire started that caused Los Banos’ favorite gathering place to be closed for 51 days. “Our customers were horrified,” Mr. Biderman said.
No lives were lost in the fire. But another incident soon closed the place. “A short time after we reopened, a car crashed into the shop causing us to close again. Again, no one was injured,” he recalled.
Despite the setbacks, the shop continued on, growing popularity as the years went by. “We were even listed in a California travel guide as one of the top 10 destinations for doughnuts,” he said.
Unfortunately for Los Banos and the Biedermans, in 1995 the state of California began to widen highway 152. This required using part of the Biedermans’ property for the expansion.
Because of eminent domain, the state was able to take the property as long as the owners were paid fair market value. After the highway was completed, the Bidermans tried to reopen the shop, but “there were so many new regulations and requirements that we just couldn’t do it,” explained Mr. Biederman.
“Ask Us” is produced by Tim McNally’s Advanced Placement American Government class at Los Banos High School. Do you have a question about the history of Los Banos? Submit it to Mr. McNally’s class by e-mail to email@example.com, by phone to 826-6033 or by mail to Los Banos High School, 1966 South 11th Street, Los Banos, California 93635.