In celebration of #NationalDonutDay, we want to bring attention to the achievements of Ted Ngoy. From Cambodian refugee to “Donut King”, Ted’s entrepreneurship revolutionized the donut industry in Southern California.
Ted Ngoy immigrated to America to find a better life for his family. They had fled from the Khmer Rouge civil war in Cambodia and had to live as refugees in a new country. Although Ted was grateful for a church sponsorship to gain his first American jobs, he wasn’t satisfied with his work as a church landscaper and custodian. He envisioned more for his life.
Ted then started working at a local gas station next to a donut shop. He had never heard of this pastry - but when he took a bite, he realized the flavor hit close to home. The donuts tasted like nom kong, a Cambodian rice flour pastry. This moment would be the turning point in his career.
Ted became Winchell’s Donuts's first Southeast Asian trainee, and later applied his skills and experience to his own business. He bought Christy’s Donuts, a local shop in La Habra, California and began to perfect his practice. While many stores usually baked donuts twice a day in large batches back in his day, Ted became a customer favorite through his dedication to baking small batches throughout the day. This became its own form of advertisement as customers were lured in by the delicious aroma of freshly baked donuts. His excellent customer service skills and attention to details kept customers coming back.
The success of Christy’s Donuts eventually lead to Ted’s donut empire. He saw the struggling Cambodian refugees and wanted to do his part to help his community. Ted and his family opened stores all over Southern California and branched out into areas in Oregon and Texas by helping hundreds of refugees with visas, sponsorships, loans, training, and setting up their own businesses. Armed with the knowledge from his own journey, Ted helped them learn English, taught them business management, and showed them how to navigate their new home country.
These donut shops changed the lives of the Cambodian community in America. Following Ted’s business model, many Cambodian-Americans were able to create their own business opportunities and find success. In recognition of Ted’s contributions, many business partners gave him the title of “Donut King”.
Not only did Ted find a way to help his community, but his entrepreneurial efforts also shaped the flavor landscape of America as we currently know it. While mainstream franchises dominate the states, they are no match for the local donut shops that cover Southern California. Even now, the new generation of Cambodian-Americans are showing their parents how to navigate social media and anchor their small businesses in the changing landscape of the 21st century. Their inspirational journey is their achievement of the "American Dream."
You can read more about Ted Ngoy’s life in his autobiography titled, The Donut King: The Rags to Riches Story of a Poor Immigrant Who Changed the World. Additionally, in March 2020, Alice Gu directed a documentary telling about Ted Ngoy’s life in “The Donut King” that is expected to be available later on this year.