[By Mike Foley: Originally published on December 18, 2008]
In a recent post, I mentioned the fact that I used to buy gas for as little as 12¢ a gallon when I was a teenage driver in Salt Lake City…which reminded me that just a few years before then, in the 1950s, I could buy a single-scoop ice cream at the Harris Dairy on 21st South for 5¢ — or two scoops for 10¢, which was half the price of similar offerings at the famous Snelgrove’s Ice Cream store, which was four long block away. Of course, in those days milk men in distinctive, boxy milk trucks delivered glass quart bottles of milk and other dairy products right to your door. If I remember correctly, this went on into the early 60s.
Not far east of Snelgrove’s, also on 21st South, there was a small “spudnut” shop. They’re probably available somewhere, but I haven’t seen one for a very long time. A spudnut was a doughnut, but they apparently must have had some potato flour in them, hence the name. Though I’m not sure of ingredients, I definitely recall they were delicious; and what was even more fascinating to little kids was being able to watch the automatic deep-fryer which made them through the front window: Batter would come out of a nozzle, which would automatically form the hole. The spudnut batter would plop into the oil, float half-way around a little track, get automatically flipped over to cook the other side, then end up in a bin where some would get sugar-coated, and others would get glazed, but they were also very tasty just fresh. In fact, the first time I ever tasted Krispy Kreme™ doughnuts, which everybody in Hawaii was raving about, I thought to myself, they weren’t as good as those long-ago spudnuts. And the best part? The spudnuts also only cost a nickel apiece, meaning most kids could usually buy two, maybe one for a friend.
Candy bars also cost 5¢ in those days, except for a few premium ones for 10¢. Comic books — the ones that collectors now treasure — cost 10¢. I remember I had to beg my brother, or someone, to read them to me before I learned to do so myself . . . and, of course, we had a wide range of them, some of which have now been made into movies.
But the best deal of all was 10¢ movies for kids (25¢ for adults) at the old Southeast Theater on 1100 East, just off of 21st South. The Southeast almost always played double-bills — two movies. My mom was a big movie fan, and on Friday nights we would often stop off at Snelgrove’s to each get a hand-packed carton with a twin-scoop of ice cream that we would take into the theater with us. As I got a little older she would let me go back on Saturday mornings to watch a different double-bill, usually cowboy movies. I still love movies to this day, including the cowboy ones! Thank goodness for the western channel on cable.
Of course, any old-timer can tell similar stories about how things cost less in years past. It’s all relative to the prevailing economy. For example, my wife, Sally Ann McShane, who’s just a few months younger than me and grew up in Damon Tract (now the Honolulu International Airport), then Waiau (think Waimalu/Pearl City area), remembers buying manapua — big fat Chinese steamed rice buns with pork filling (char siu bao) — for 5¢ each.
In fact, in 2006 I was in Shanghai, China, where we could buy all kinds of bao for not much more than that. We were studying at Fudan University where, if we went to the student cafeteria — a huge building that could probably accommodate a thousand people at a time — we could eat a heaping plate of Chinese food for about 35¢; but my roommate and I preferred the wide variety of surrounding restaurants where two hungry guys could have a very nice meal for $5-6. I particularly liked a barbecue-your-own type of place which specialized in “hot pots.” We stuck to the traditional chicken and pork dishes, passing on the more-daring dog, horse, snake, frog, chicken feet and cartilage, and pork gristle and cartilage specialities — at least that’s what the menu’s listed.