Imagine a clear winter night, the sky free from clouds and the stars twinkling in the crisp air, and revelers streaming into the blocked-off downtown streets for an evening party.
Fires crackle in barrels along Central Avenue and people laugh as they make their way to celebrate the season with their community. Then it happens — a scent snags your nose, a scent so powerful it pulls nearly everyone it reaches as if hooking them by the nostrils.
Whiffs of cinnamon and sugar, of fried dough, of everything delicious and warm, lead you to a small trailer full of joy and happiness and usually a couple of Ferdas dishing out waxed-paper bag after bag of their famous mini donuts.
“She’s the Donut Queen,” Scot Ferda said of his wife and co-owner, Julie Ferda. “She’s worth three people in the trailer.”
“It’s been cool, though,” Julie Ferda said of the mini-donut business. “All of our employees have been family.”
For about 20 years, the Ferdas have served up sweet circles of sugary happiness to long lines of hungry acolytes, people who know it’s worth the wait to get a small bag of about 20 donuts made fresh in about one minute.
The most popular flavor is cinnamon and sugar, the Ferdas said, but recently they’ve expanded to include chocolate and maple sauce for dipping. The idea is to make an already great thing greater, which is a bit of a Ferda mindset in general.
A family with deep roots in the Whitefish community, many locals likely know Scot and Julie through the school system. Scot taught physical education at Whitefish Middle School for 34 years before retiring in 2015, and nearly that many years teaching driver’s education in the summer.
The couple’s three children — Tucker, Taylor, and Ashley — also made waves as athletes in the community, and are all trained in the ways of the mini donut. In fact, the whole venture started two decades ago as a way to earn extra cash to put toward their kids’ college funds.
Until they sold it six years ago, the Ferdas used to run Great Falls Ice in the summers when Scot wasn’t teaching. Twenty years ago Scot was making an ice delivery to the State Fair in Great Falls with his then-middle-school-aged son, Tucker.
The boy wandered to the mini donut trailer, then owned by a man from Minnesota, where they were also serving shaved ice. He asked his father why they didn’t make donuts, too, to which Scot replied, “Because we’re ice guys, Tucker.”
Finally, after hearing about it for “over an hour,” Scot approached the man and asked if Tucker could work for him for a couple of hours for free, hoping to knock the idea out of the kid with some hard-work realities.
“But instead, he said, ‘Dad, we have to buy this thing,’” Scot said with a laugh.
He decided to let Tucker try again the next day, and again, the lesson in labor didn’t end up the way Scot thought it might.
“The next thing I know, Julie and I are in there that night,” Scot said, adding: “Tucker’s the reason why we own this thing.”
The Ferdas bought the trailer with Scot’s brother, though the Whitefish family sold the Great Falls end of the business six years ago as well. Ever since, they’ve set up their trailer at events all over the Flathead Valley, earning a dedicated following.
Before Scot retired, they used to work the trailer about 25 days a year, usually in the summer, selling shaved ice during the day and the warm donuts after the sun went down. But now, they’ve ventured more into the fall and winter seasons, open about 50 to 60 days a year.
They wander from event to event, the love of fried dough and sugar uniting people of all walks of life. And now that the couple has more time to dedicate to it, they’d like to start working at weddings and other special events.
This winter, they’ll be at the Whitefish Winter Carnival and Art Stroll, the Pond Hockey Classic in Kalispell, local skijoring competitions, and the famous Barstool Races at Cabin Fever Days in Martin City.
These days, the inside of the trailer is decorated with various stickers denoting where the Ferdas have been and earned their education, and there’s always a friendly face, recognizable to many locals, in the trailer window. The Ferdas plan on making donuts well into the future, to the relief and delight of many.
“I can see us passing this down to our kids,” Scot said.
To contact the Ferdas about hiring the mini-donut trailer for events, call (406) 249-9810 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Read more of our best long-form journalism in Flathead Living. Pick up the winter edition for free on newsstands across the valley, or check it out online at flatheadliving.com.
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