essay by Ann. M. Colford & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & quinting from the bright sun, enter the darkened back hall. As your eyes adjust, walk into a tunnel of air redolent with sweet dough frying in hot oil. Undertones of coffee and worn shoe leather add complexity to the aroma, but the smell of donuts is visceral and overwhelming, as if you are breathing in the essential donut vapors.

Walking through the back door of Donut Parade is like crossing a portal into a timeless place where they know you even if it's your first time there. Sit down at the counter or in one of the booths and Christian or Tracy will bring over a coffee and ask what you want. The earliest regulars -- the ones who arrive at 5:30 am -- get old-fashioned donuts, irregular circles rich with buttermilk, cracked and crevassed where the dough has broken during cooking. The next shift -- starting around 6 or so -- gets the cake donuts, those symmetrical Os with a hint of cardamom and other spices; smooth brown crust outside, pale yellow goodness within; perfectly plain, rolled in cinnamon sugar, or iced with maple, chocolate, cherry or orange.

But at the pinnacle of donut-hood rest the maple bars, golden crispy pillows of yeast-raised dough, painted with a stripe of thin maple icing. The first batch comes out, still hot enough to singe the fingers, at about 8 am daily. By that time, every seat in the room is taken and the line snakes out the front door. On a Friday, the busiest day of the week, about 60 to 70 dozen maple bars will cross the counter; laid end to end, those bars would stretch the length of a football field. The mechanized products of Krispy Kreme or Dunkin' Donuts may have their place in this world, but visions of paradise can be conjured up with one bite of a Donut Parade maple bar.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he man behind the donuts is Darrell Jones, the 78-year-old duke of the dough who has run the place since Day One with his wife Kathryn. The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last week. Back in 1968, the Joneses returned to Spokane from California with their four children and opened Donut Parade just a half-block north of the current location. (Eight years earlier, he and his brother had briefly run another donut shop further south on Hamilton, and Darrell had worked in bakeries since 1942 when he was a teenager in Durham, N.C.) In 1971, he had the chance to purchase the block at the corner of Hamilton and Illinois for the business.

Darrell's day begins at 2 am. He's at the shop usually by 3:30, starting the cake donuts. The doors open to customers by 5:30 and the pace builds to a crescendo at 8 when the maple bars start to come out. Things stay busy throughout the morning and past noon, when many people show up for lunch -- chili dogs and clam chowder are a couple of the lunchtime favorites. By early afternoon Darrell is finally done making donuts. Technically, the shop closes at 2, but it's not unusual for regulars to stick around long past 3. After cleaning up, Darrell heads home, eats some dinner, and goes to bed by 7 so he'll be ready to do it all again tomorrow. He doesn't get out much in the evening.

"If I go anywhere [at night], I pay for it the next day," he says. Does he feel like he's missed out on a lot? He grins, and drawls, "I read a lot, so I catch up on it."

Through the shop's history, it's been the scene of political discussions and campaign stops. New York Times reporter Robert Novak -- whom Darrell, a self-proclaimed "Roosevelt Democrat," labels as "to the right of Attila the Hun" -- trailed Tom Foley into the shop during the campaign of '94, and local politicians have stumped here regularly.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & J & lt;/span & ust when you think you've got a bead on Donut Parade -- quintessential Spokane, full of old white guys in flannel shirts dishing dirt about politicians and bankers -- along comes a slice of reality that'll dope-slap you and challenge those assumptions. Like the Orellana boys -- first Abel, then Rafael, Tanis and Carlos. In 1985, the family arrived in Spokane from El Salvador, fleeing the death squads who had murdered their father, a catechist with Bishop Oscar Romero.

"I started going [to Donut Parade] when I was in about the fifth grade," says Carlos, the youngest of the brothers. He'll be 30 next month. "We would go in the morning -- that's the best time to go. Especially in the wintertime, when it's snowing. You sit there... the fresh donuts, the coffee - ah! That's the way to go."

"You don't feel like a stranger there," Tanis adds. "It's kind of like a family. That's what it is with Darrell. It's a homey kind of place. As kids, that was very important -- if you had a luxurious sort of place, you'd have to be proper. We didn't have any parents with us, so we felt like we were sitting on a couch at home. We would sit there and laugh for hours."

Thanks to the vertical yellow sign in front of the shop, "donuts" was one of the first English words to work into the family's vocabulary. "We call it Las Donuts," says Carlos. "Until I got a checkbook, I never knew the name of the business."

To this day, when they talk about Darrell, he is "El Se & ntilde;or de Las Donuts."

As kids, the brothers would drop in at Donut Parade often because they lived just a couple of blocks away. They say they loved seeing all generations gathered in the shop, talking and visiting, like a modern-day village square. Now, they're grown and married with kids of their own; they've moved out of the neighborhood, but they still return, with the next generation in tow.

"There are little bakeries all over that I've never even bothered going to, because we've got the Donut Parade," Carlos says. "Even though we've all moved away, we still go to Donut Parade."

"I've never been to Starbucks myself," Tanis admits. "It's a coffee shop, but it's not the coffee that we want -- it's the environment."

"[My daughter] Aliah will say, 'Papa, we go to Las Donuts?'" says Carlos. And they go, nearly every week. Carlos tells Aliah, "These are Donut Parade donuts. Las Donuts. Yeah. It's the real stuff."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & hen there was Tracy Kinswa's family. Fourteen kids, 11 of them adopted, would pile into Donut Parade with Mom and Dad on Saturday mornings 20 years ago, back when the shop was still open six days a week. The family filled the four booths by the windows.

"They watched me grow up," says Kinswa of the Joneses. "When I learned to drive, I'd come in [from Greenacres] before school. Other kids would say to me, "Why do you drive all the way into town just for donuts?' Then one time a bunch of them came with me, and they understood."

What they understood was that sense of welcome that comes from the staff, the regulars, and the unpretentious surroundings. "Darrell and Kathy have so much love for everybody," says Kinswa. "You feel like family when you walk through the door."

Now he's an employee, working five days a weeks serving donuts and coffee to the other regulars. "I've had a lot of jobs, but I've never had this much fun at a job."

That's Donut Parade -- a slice of Americana that defies stereotypes and expectations. People are genuinely friendly and happy that you stopped by. On the surface you think you know the story, but when you step inside, it's richer and fuller than you imagined. It's a rough-cut gem of a community.

Maybe it really does reflect Spokane after all.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & N & lt;/span & ow, 38 years after opening Donut Parade, Darrell is in the process of selling the shop to longtime customer Vince Dressel and his wife, Jan. He plans to keep working, although he insists he's going to cut back.

"I don't want to quit," he says while limping from the fryer to the cutting board to the mixer. "I'm not going to work as hard, though, because I'm going to train somebody to do cake donuts, then I'm going to let him come in at 3:30. I'm going to come in at 6 and make bars."

You call that retirement, Darrell? "Hell, then I can loaf around in bed till 5 o'clock," he laughs. "What a life."

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