On the corner of Military Road and Lillian Street in Benton sits a small store with a big history of smiles, good times and tasty treats. Dale’s Donuts has been serving generations of donut lovers at this same location since 1982. Staying in business for 38 years is an accomplishment in and of itself, but even more astounding is that the local icon of sticky goodness has been in the hands of one family since the beginning—no small feat in the food industry.
Dale and Peggy Atchley opened the store after another local legend, J.R. Prince, sold the building that had once housed a service station. Interestingly enough, it had also been used as a donut store in the past.
Dale and Peggy’s son, Joel began working at the store in 1987. He learned how to do everything, from sweeping floors to taking out trash to helping customers. But his favorite job was being a donut cutter. Joel purchased the business from his parents when they retired in 1992.
The Atchley family moved to Benton in 1970 from Bakersfield, California. Joel remembers what it felt like seeing Benton for the first time. “To me it felt like I’d moved to another planet!” he says. “It’s so different here; but it’s become my home and I love Benton.”
The signature “Dale’s” name hand-written on the top of each carryout box is instantly recognizable. “My mom started doing that the day they opened and it’s still done today.” says Joel. The tradition continues and has been passed down. “The girls at the shop do it and sometimes I do it. You wouldn’t want my dad to do it! He was kind of like my son Nick. They’re the only ones that could read it.” Without a doubt, this white box with the red signature has been welcomed in meetings, classrooms, break rooms and Sunday school classes for decades.
The business has grown and expanded. The first store has always been the main shop but a second location opened for a time. “For a few years we had a shop at what used to be Lincoln Square, but we sold it to focus on our main shop with my dad wanting to retire,” says Joel. Lincoln Square was one of the first major shopping centers built in Benton, but was torn down several years ago. Eventually, the Kum & Go store on the corner of Military and Congo Roads was built at the same location.
More important than the store’s longevity is the undeniably unique donuts and other menu items offered at Dale’s. Joel closely guards the recipe for the flagship donut. “I wish I could tell you how we make our donuts, but No Can Do!”
In regards to the menu itself, Joel says, “The menu hasn’t varied much, because as busy as we’ve become we don’t have the time to add to it and keep up with our costumers. That’s a good problem to have, though. It’s really unbelievable how busy we get with no parking! If you’ve been here, you know what I mean! I’m so thankful our costumers are patient and are willing to walk a few more steps to come in.”
Dale’s has been a gathering place for old and young alike. In fact, a group of retired men regularly sit at a table near the entrance to read the daily newspaper, eat donuts, drink coffee and solve all of the world’s problems.
A few steps away stands the children’s table, one of Joel’s favorite places. “I’ve watched a lot of kids grow up and bring their kids and grandkids. I can’t remember how many re-paints I’ve done to that table over the years. I finally decided to have it powder-coated to hold up better. It’s funny to watch parents sitting there with their kids. The things we do for our children!”
Joel said he hasn’t thought about just how many donuts his little corner of Benton has made. “Honestly, it makes my head hurt trying to answer that one. Let’s say a lot!”
The family tradition continues at Dale’s. “All my kids and a lot of my family have worked their time at the shop growing up. I do have great people working for me.”
The Dale’s name has grown and spread to other cities. “I’m still shocked when I’m in another town in a place I’ve never been and someone will see my Dale’s shirt and yell to me that they love our donuts,” says Joel. “It makes me smile because I think of everyone through the years that have made Dale’s what it is.”
When asked why his store has been so successful, Joel talks less about product than about people.
“You can’t make it without three things: good donuts, good employees and most of all, our great customers. But in the end, we are just a small business in a small town that has been blessed more than we deserve.”
But many would argue that the blessing has been a two-way street…with no parking!