(Editor's note: This is Part Two of our quest to find the man who built a donut empire in California's Cambodian-American community. We recommend starting with Part One.)
After escaping Cambodia's "Killing Fields," Ted Ngoy built a donut empire in California, helping scores of Cambodian refugees in the process. Then he lost it all, and disappeared.
Last week we started our search for the "Donut King." When we left off, we had just found out that Ted was coming back to visit the US for the first time in years. He’d be attending the annual Cambodian cultural festival in Long Beach, just south of LA, where a lot of the Cambodian community is centered.
This week on The Sporkful, we finally meet Ted and hear the story of how he won and lost his donut fortune -- directly from him.
Ted has returned to the Cambodian community seeking redemption. But will he find it? As you'll hear, this story is about much more than donuts.
Check out some photos from the episode (below)!
Ted greets people at the Cambodia Town festival:
Ted offers advice to Dary and Sreyrot Chan at their donut shop Sweet Retreat in Long Beach:
Listen in to the conclusion of our two-part quest to find the "Donut King."
- Ted Ngoy's new memoir, The Donut King; The Rags to Riches Story of a Poor Immigrant Who Changed the World
- Dary and Sreyrot Chan's gourmet donut shop, Sweet Retreat, in Long Beach, CA
Interstitial music in this episode from Black Label Music:
- "Narwhal" by Casey Hjelmberg
- "Small Talk" by Haley Briasco
- "Minimaliminal" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Hot Night" by Mark Mallman
- "Homefront" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Enigmatic Rhodes" by Stephen Clinton Sullivan
- "Worldly Endeavors" by Cullen Fitzpatrick
Photos: Dan Pashman and courtesy of Ted Ngoy
Dan Pashman: Previously on The Sporkful…
CLIP (SANDY NEW): They would say, "Oh yeah, donut shop owners are all Cambodians."
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): What do you know about Ted Ngoy?
CLIP (FRANK CHONG): Oh man, he's like the donut legend. He's the king of donuts. He had a really really good heart of helping his community.
CLIP (SANDY NEW): That horrible habit that he picked up with gambling made him lose everything. And now he's back in Cambodia in a village where no one can get in touch with him.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): You must be the Donut King?
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters. I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. This is part two, of a two-part story we're telling. So if you haven't heard part one yet, go back and listen to that one first. It'll make this part a lot better.
Dan Pashman: So when we left off, I had just found out that Ted Ngoy, aka The Donut King, aka the guy I’d been trying to track down for months, was coming back to visit the US for the first time in years. He’d be attending the annual Cambodia Town Festival in Long Beach. It's just south of LA. It's where a lot of the Cambodian community is centered. I flew to LA to meet Ted the day before the festival. I went straight from the airport to his son Chris’s house, where he was staying.
Dan Pashman: Alright, thanks.
Dan Pashman: Coming up to the house, I admit I was nervous. For so long I had been learning about this guy. The donut empire he built from nothing, all the refugees he helped. I mean, 5,000 independent donut shops in California today and 90% of them are owned by Cambodians. Of course I’d also been learning about how he lost everything and left. I had so many questions that only Ted could answer. Ted greeted me with a big smile, and thanked me for coming so far. He wore a loose grey suit, white dress shirt, no tie. He’s 77 now, he looks good with maybe a few more lines in his face than he had in the photos that I had seen. But after all these years, some things haven’t changed. He still has a taste for the food that made him famous.
Dan Pashman: Just so I can get a level on your voice, just telling me what you had for breakfast today.
Ted Ngoy: Yeah, we got the Leo donut. As you know, my favorite donut is a hot glazed donut and a hot coffee.
Dan Pashman: As I said last week, Ted, his wife Sugantini, and their three kids came to the US as refugees in 1975, during the early days of the Cambodian genocide.
Dan Pashman: When you first arrived in America with your family, how did you feel?
Ted Ngoy: Well, fear. You know, very fearful because I don't know America. So the language—my english also very poor, very broken, and my fear is I don't know if I can get a job. And how can I go and feed my family. So the fear factor is so great.
Dan Pashman: Ted worked as a janitor during the day and at a gas station on the graveyard shift. One night, another worker offered to get him something from the donut shop across the street.
Ted Ngoy: I taste it. I said, "Wow, wonderful. So I brought to me, Sungantini, and my children. They all love it. They say, "Daddy, next time, bring some more. Bring some more.", because they kind of like it. So that's the first donut that I taste.
Dan Pashman: Right. Yes, donuts are delicious but you could have gotten into other businesses.
Ted Ngoy: Yes.
Dan Pashman: Why donuts? What was the opportunity that you saw with donuts.
Ted Ngoy: Well, first of all, my english is not good enough to other business. And secondly, I do not know any other business opportunity besides the donut besides there's only three month in America. I don't know what kind of other business I need to do. That's the only business that I first experience.
Dan Pashman: So it was really just the first thing that you saw.
Ted Ngoy: The first thing that I saw.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Ted Ngoy: Besides the gas station and besides bigger mall and bigger supermarket. Of course, I cannot buy the big supermarket. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: So it was really luck.
Ted Ngoy: It's luck. It's luck. You can say luck, yes.
Dan Pashman: But what happened next wasn’t luck. Ted went into that donut shop across the street from the gas station. He asked the owners, "What it would take for me to get my own place?" They told him about a training program for store managers at Winchell’s, a local donut chain. Ted got into the program. And then got a job running a Winchell’s. So he learned the business. But he quickly realized he wanted a lot more. So he put together all the money he had saved and bought his first shop. Now, if I was going to spend my whole life savings on anything, I would be terrified. But Ted says when he bought that place, he was confident.
Ted Ngoy: First, I asked the owner of the donut shop. I said, "How much money you make a month?" She said, "About—per year, $40,000." And then I figured out, if he makes $40,000, I can make $60,000. Because why? Because, number one, I bake myself. Number two, my family can take over the window, the counter. So it's better than if I work for Winchell's.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Ted Ngoy: Winchell, I only make $20,000.
Dan Pashman: Right. You wanted to own it yourself.
Ted Ngoy: So I will do some calculation and there's no risk factor. Risk factor was very minimum.
Dan Pashman: That first shop Ted bought was in La Habra, in Orange County. He kept the name the same – Christy’s. And he didn’t touch the décor. But he did make one key change. He started baking smaller batches of donuts throughout the day, so his donuts were always fresh. This was something he learned at Winchell’s. And that approach had another benefit—free marketing. You could smell the donuts baking from the street. So Ted’s calculations turned out to be right. The business did really well, and he started buying more shops. He says he developed a system for scouting new locations. He’d sit in his car outside a shop for hours, drinking coffee, and counting the number of customers going in and out. From that, he could estimate how much profit a store was likely to generate. By 1979 – after just four years in the US, Ted and Suganthini owned 16 donut shops. They wanted to keep growing the business, but they only had so many relatives they could put in charge of stores. Then, around this time, things in Cambodia got much worse. A new wave of refugees began pouring into southern California. This was the moment Ted and Suganthini began turning a growing business into an empire.
Ted Ngoy: So I, that time, I say, well...I talked to my wife, "Why not train more Cambodian baker and other thing so we can set up some kind of chain store?" You know? And that's how we go rapidly this round here.
Dan Pashmah: Ted and Sunganthini wanted to help the Cambodians coming in. But Ted also saw a business opportunity. So they sponsored visas for hundreds of families arriving from the refugee camps in Thailand. And set these families up with donut shops. Ted showed them what he calls his system: how to bake, how to keep the books, how to smile at customers. He loaned these refugees start-up money, and leased them shops around California, usually taking about a third of a store’s profit for rent.
Ted Ngoy: Whoever really want me to help, I will help them. And these people that I help, later on, they help the other. You know? Because when they do well, they still lease my store but they already got money, they use my system. They bought another donut shop or they open and own their own donut shop. So even though they have my store lease, they still have theirs. So that's how the donut shop grows so fast.
Dan Pashman: By 1985, ten years after arriving in California with nothing, Ted and Suganthini had donut shops as far north as Canada, and east into Arizona and Texas. They were making a hundred thousand dollars a month.
Dan Pashman: Were there ever people who—because I understand that you were trying to balance helping people and business.
Ted Ngoy: Yes.
Dan Pashman: Were there ever people who felt like you were making too much money from the refugees?
Ted Ngoy: Well, you know, there's always some jealousy. Yeah, you know, there's no doubt about this. But mostly, very satisfactory because they use my system they make a million dollars to themselves. So later on they feel like they are grateful for me because even though I make more money than them, but eventually they're gonna make money like me.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Ted Ngoy: Everybody become Donut King.
Dan Pashman: Of course, Ted will always be the original Donut King but he never would have been so successful without Suganthini. He says they were a team. When all that money came rolling in, that was new for Ted. Growing up in Cambodia he was poor, the son of a single mom. But Suganthini grew up in one of the richest, most prominent families in “Pah-nom Penh,” Cambodia’s capital city. She and Ted were college classmates. Ted says he had a crush on her, but at first he was too intimidated to even talk to her. And anyway, what would be the point? Wealthy suitors from across the city were already lined up. Eventually though, they started flirting, passing notes back and forth.
Ted Ngoy: And one day, I just wrote—joking—I say, "What happens if someday I climb the roof and to your room?", and then she joked. She made a joke. She just wrote back and say, "Wow, haha. What happens if you jump to the wrong roof to my mother's room? Then what's gonna happen?" And then, I thought she was serious.
Dan Pashman: So Ted did it. One night, he scaled a tree near the wall of Suganthini’s family’s compound. He climbed through barbed wire and jumped to a balcony. Fortunately, he found the right room.
Ted Ngoy: "Suganthini? Suganthini?", and she turned around and said, "Who's that? Go away! Go away! I'm going to cry and yell and call my mother and father!" I said, "Don't! If you do, I will be dead. But I don't want to go anywhere because I fall in love with you." And then she said, "What am I going to do? What am I going to do?" I said, "Don't worry. Daytime, when you go to study private lesson, I will hide under your bed." I did. I hide under her bed for 45 days.
Dan Pashman: 45 days??
Ted Ngoy: 45 days. 45 days.
Dan Pashman: When Suganthini’s parents found out about Ted, they were furious. But by then, Ted and Suganthini were in love. They wanted to get married. Ted says Suganthini’s mother threatened to have Ted arrested if he didn’t break things off. She said he had to tell Suganthini that he didn’t really care about her, that he was involved with other women, even though that wasn’t true. As Ted tells it, in a move that sounds downright Shakespearean, Suganthini’s parents hid behind a curtain and listened to make sure Ted delivered this message to Suganthini.
Ted Ngoy: So she wanted me to say, "I'm a bad man. I'm playboy and I'm always chasing girls from one to another." So I knew I would love her dearly. So I sharpened a knife, put under my here. So when they're hidden behind the curtain and after I repeat that word then I stabbed myself. You know, and blood's all over and her father called ambulance.
Dan Pashman: So you said all the words she told you to say, You're a bad person. You'll go back to your parents. You'll never bother them again and then you stabbed yourself.
Ted Ngoy: I stabbed myself. I just want to show her that I'm loyal, you know? I'm faithful.
Dan Pashman: Ted spent a week in the hospital. While he was there, Suganthini tried to commit suicide, by taking pills. When Ted got out, he climbed that tree near her family’s compound, one more time. His stitches were barely healed, but he shimmied over the wall and under the barbed wire and crawled into her room.
Ted Ngoy: And she saw me blood still everywhere. And she said, "Why you come here for?" I said, "I come here because I want you to know you have to survive. You have to fight and we are going to win at the end."
Dan Pashman: Ted says once Suganthini’s parents saw how committed they were to each other, her parents gave their blessing. Ted and Suganthini were married. Their first son was born. Ted says those early years, before all the killing started, were the happiest time of his life.
Dan Pashman: So when Ted and Suganthini came to America, they were in it together. When he bought that first donut shop, Christy’s, it was Suganthini who ran the counter. In fact, she changed her name to Christy soon after. As the business expanded and Ted traveled up and down the west coast scouting new locations, Christy was often the one behind the wheel, with the kids in the back. Of course, that also means that when things went bad for Ted – Christy bore the brunt of it.
Dan Pashman: Like I said, by 1985, they were millionaires many times over. They moved into a huge mansion in Mission Viejo. With all their shops leased out, they had more leisure time. They started going to Vegas to see shows and gamble a little. But that little quickly turned into a lot. Ted explained what pulled him in.
Ted Ngoy: I think, more or else, the excitement. Like you play a game. When the kid plays a game, they never want to quit because excitement. So there's two things. Number one, is money. Number two, is excitement. I think excitement is more than the money.
Dan Pashman: And during the time that you were gambling, you said that you were borrowing a lot of money from people. You felt a lot of shame.
Ted Ngoy: Yes.
Dan Pashman: You were also lying to your wife.
Ted Ngoy: Yes.
Dan Pashman: Is there one specific story about that, that stands out for you?
Ted Ngoy: Yeah. Yeah, many times, many times.
Dan Pashman: Can you give me one example?
Ted Ngoy: For example, I'm baking donuts now. Right?
Dan Pashman: You're baking donuts.
Ted Ngoy: And my wife's take care of the window. I say, "Sorry, Christy, why don't you watch and I go outside to borrow some mix or water.", I just lied to her.
Dan Pashman: You said, you're going to get donut mix.
Ted Ngoy: Yeah, donut mix. I'm lying to her and them immediately, I went to airport—already gone to Las Vegas.
Dan Pashman: You told her you were going to get donut mix and you went to the airport and got on a plane and flew to Las Vegas?
Ted Ngoy: And not only that time, many, many, many times. Many many times. Many times. I stay in Las Vegas for three, four days. And Christy was so worried and she take all my kids in the back of her car and then just drive to Las Vegas and looking for me. When I see Christy, I hide behind the slot machine. You know, I feel so guilty. I feel so ashamed. I feel I'm—when I hide from them, I cry. I cry because I feel sorry for the kids and her. And she look, look and gone back.
Dan Pashman: She's looking for you.
Ted Ngoy: And then she comes back home. You know? So many, many times. Many times. When I talk about gambling, I feel remorse. I almost commit suicide. Many, many times because I hate myself. I can't get rid of it.
Dan Pashman: By 1987, Ted was in deep. Every time he went to Vegas, he lost another donut shop. He says he was trying everything he could think of to quit. He went to gamblers anonymous. He studied with Buddhist monks. He spent three months in a monastery in Thailand. A few weeks after coming back, he was in Vegas again.
Ted Ngoy: And now, why I stop because I believe in Jesus. And every time I want to go gamble, I look at Jesus—so, no. I'm afraid of him. So I don't gamble anymore.
Dan Pashman: So Ted did finally stop gambling. But by then, he and Christy had lost their mansion and most of their fortune. In 1992, they moved back to Cambodia. Then, when their first grandchild was born, in California, Christy returned to the US. But Ted stayed behind. Their marriage had fallen apart. After 35 years together, Ted and Christy were divorced. One of the big reasons Ted went to Cambodia, and stayed, was that he knew he had burned a lot of bridges in the Cambodian community in California.
Ted Ngoy: They stopped wanting to have a real relationship with me. Because I know, if they let their relationship happen, I will borrow money from them. So, of course, my reputation is really hurt so much. Yes.
Dan Pashman: How did it make you feel, when people would not help you?
Ted Ngoy: Hmm. Yeah, of course, there's some selfishness. They only care about their own family and they tend to forget what people done good for them. But the whole thing start with gambling. I don't blame them. I blame myself.
Dan Pashman: So this event tomorrow, the festival tomorrow that we're going to...
Ted Ngoy: Yes.
Dan Pashman: Am I right? That this is your first public, sort of, appearance in a while in this area?
Ted Ngoy: Yeah, that's true since 1992. So since then, I never in public appearance up here in Long Beach or US. So this should be my first one. So it's kind of emotional and little bit nervous and exciting
Dan Pashman: Emotional, nervous, excited, everything.
Ted Ngoy: Yes, yes sir.
Dan Pashman: What do you hope will happen tomorrow?
Ted Ngoy: Well, I know many people going to be cheering for me tomorrow. Because this, my glorious day. You know, I feel. So I think tomorrow people will come and bow and say, "Thank you. You are Donut King. Because of you, our family do better here." You know? So I feel the atmosphere.
Dan Pashman: Are you worried that there might be some people who will still be upset about things that happened a long time ago?
Ted Ngoy: No, I don't think so because I don't owe them nothing. You know? I'm innocent and I think I'm okay.
Dan Pashman: After talking to Ted for awhile, it became clear that he's both trying to make amends and cement his legacy. And that's clear, not just because of our conversation but because Ted has picked this moment to write his own memoir. In fact, that’s the real reason why he’s going to the festival. He’s promoting his book, which he’s self publishing. It’s called, The Donut King: The Rags to Riches Story of a Poor Immigrant Who Changed the World. So Ted has returned to the Cambodian community seeking forgiveness – and the credit he thinks he deserves. But are people ready to give that to him? After talking with Ted, I spent a few minutes with his son Chris. He remembers hanging out in his dad’s donut shops as a kid, sleeping on sacks of flour while Ted did the baking. Chris was around 10 or 12 when Ted’s gambling addiction got really bad. Chris remembers that too, remembers his mom, Christy, trying to find Ted when he’d run off to Vegas.
Chris Ngoy: He would have aliases at the casinos. He would change his first name, change his last name. I remember my mom calling, figured out he changed his first name to Tom, or whatever, and it's—you know, my mom's gone through a lot. She's gone through hell a lot. So...
Dan Pashman: What's your sense of how the Cambodian community in this area thinks of him today?
Chris Ngoy: I think most of them still respect him but a lot of them know what took him down. You know? I think he may still even owe people money, here and there, some relatives, whatever. So there's some animosity there but I think he's done a lot more good than bad. That's for sure.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, I go with Ted to the Cambodia Town Festival to see how he’s received. I’ll talk with people there, including an unexpected visitor – Ted’s former wife Christy
CLIP (CHRISTY): I stood by him for so many years. He'll be broke. He don't have anything, moved to Cambodia. So okay, I go with him to stand by him, hoping all the time that he's changed.
Dan Pashman: Stick around.
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. We're doing another live taping of our spinoff podcast, the advice show, Ask Mimi, starring legendary critic Mimi Sheraton. I'm the moderator. It's a blast. Union Hall in Brooklyn, Wednesday May 23rd. Get your tickets now at unionhallny.com. Now back to the show. Now, back to the show…
Dan Pashman: The Long Beach Cambodia Town Festival looks like a pretty typical street festival. It’s set up in a parking lot, with stage at one end with a big banner that reads, “Cambodia: Kingdom of Wonder.” Musicians and singers perform in traditional attire. You remember Sandy New from the first episode of our story, she was trying to help us find Ted? She and I met up at the festival.
Sandy New: So they're doing a little Cambodian chanting right now. That's usually always the opener.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Sandy New: For ever ceremony.
Dan Pashman: Next to the stage, there were a couple of rows of tables with tents – Cambodian New Year tickets sold here, Cambodian Muslim Community, Khmer Bridal Attire, an author selling a book about the Killing Fields. And then there was Ted’s tent – a big banner with the title of his book, The Donut King. Ted’s son Chris was setting up.
Dan Pashman: Chris, you guys have set up a lovely—you have spelled out the words, The Donut King.
Chris Ngoy: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: In donuts.
Chris Ngoy: Right.
Dan Pashman: You're also giving away donuts.
Chris Ngoy: Yup, that's right.
Dan Pashman: How long until somebody accidentally takes one of these letters?
Chris Ngoy: I'm sure not very long. I'm waiting for some little kid that's about eye level go, "Ohhh, donut looks good."
Dan Pashman: Right, right.
Chris Ngoy: I'm gonna bite it.
Dan Pashman: Your dad's gonna come by and be like, "Why am I the Onut King?"
Chris Ngoy: Right, exactly. That would be funny.
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: They had copies of Ted’s book for sale at the table, 15 bucks a piece. Ted stood in front of the booth greeting people while Chris and other family members offered donuts, told people about Ted’s story, and tried to sell the book. Some people snapped photos with Ted. A lot of them picked up the book and thumbed through it. The younger people who came by mostly didn’t seem to know who Ted was, but they were curious. They knew about the connection between Cambodians and donuts. They just didn’t know how it started. But some of the older folks who came by – they remembered Ted. There were a lot of warm embraces.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN):So how do you know Ted?
CLIP (PERSON 1): He's a very popular man.
CLIP (PERSON 2): His father knows him.
CLIP (PERSON 1): Yeah, my father and him was very close.
CLIP (PERSON 3): My father and my friend.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Did your father work in the donut business?
CLIP (PERSON 1): No, but they know back them from Cambodia. Yeah.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): When was the last time you saw him?
CLIP (PERSON 1): Wow, a long time.
CLIP (PERSON 3): Thirty years or twenty-five years, or more.
CLIP (PERSON 1): No, but he still looks young though. Yeah.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): You remember him?
CLIP (PERSON 4): He go way back in 1973.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Wow.
CLIP (PERSON 4): Yeah, in Bangkok, we were together. My husband worked with him.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Together in Bangkok in 73'
CLIP (PERSON 4): Yeah, yeah.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Wow.
CLIP (PERSON 4): Yeah, yeah. So it's been a long way back.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Yeah.
Dan Pashman: When Ted returned to Cambodia in 1992, he tried to get in to Cambodian in politics. Watching Ted work the crowd at the festival, I could definitely see why. He’s got all the classic politician moves down. He doesn’t just shake hands, he puts his other hand on a person’s arm, listens intently. He’s quick with a joke and a compliment. He clearly loves the attention. There’s a traditional Cambodian greeting where people put their hands together as if to pray, hold their hands just under their chin, and bow slightly. It’s a sign of respect, and Ted exchanged many of these greetings with people. Then, he introduced me to one person there I wasn’t expecting to see.
Ted Ngoy: Maybe you want to take interview with my former wife, Christy. There she is.
Dan Pashman: Oh, okay. Alright, yeah. Also known as Sunganthini. Okay, alright. Are you Christy?
Dan Pashman: Hi, I'm Dan.
Christy: Hi, nice to meet you.
Dan Pashman: So I'm doing a story about Ted.
Dan Pashman: About donut and donut shops and all that. What's your favorite kind of donut?
Christy: I don't eat donuts.
Dan Pashman: You don't eat donuts?
Dan Pashman: Do you like donuts?
Christy: No. I don't like sweet.
Dan Pashman: So you're telling me that all over California, there's Christy's donuts all over the place. You are Christy and you don't...
Christy: Yeah, yeah I don't eat donut. I tell you. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: What are some of your early memories of opening those donut shops?
Christy: Ohhh, hard work. Hard work, yeah. I help a lot in his baking and I do the front work. You know, like cash register and then sometimes I work like 12-13 hours.
Dan Pashman: What do you think it is about Ted's personality that allowed him to build this business?
Christy: He's a people person. Very good public relations, not me. I'm kind of in the background. I'm in the shade. I'm his shadow, that's all. I work.
Dan Pashman: But he could not have done it without you, right? There's no way.
Christy: Yeah, I did all the driving and I did all the paper work, the book keeping...
Dan Pashman: Is there also something about his personality that led him to make bad decisions?
Christy: He likes excitement. Whenever, he go to Vegas, he makes a lot of money. He's so happy. He's so excited giving everybody a hundred here, a hundred there. You know? But when he's down, when he's lost and he came home and he make a scene—all my kids run to their room, crying...
Dan Pashman: Have you looked at Ted's book at all?
Christy: Not yet.
Dan Pashman: Because he talk a lot about all the great things that were accomplished, the donuts, but also talks a lot about some of the bad things that happened.
Dan Pashman: And I talked to him—I spent a couple of hours yesterday with Ted and Colman and talked to them and got a lot of the story. They both told me about times that you drove to Las Vegas with the kids in the car looking for Ted.
Dan Pashman: What do you remember about those car trips.
Christy: Ohh, it's just bad memories for me. Even now, I still—sometimes I woke up scared and terrified and crying. I say, "Oh no, it's not—it's over." It's just how bad it is.
Dan Pashman: In the book and yesterday, I was talking to Ted. He told me the story of when you guys met. You're parents were—didn't approve at first.
Dan Pashman: But you fell in love and you worked together for so long. And then in the book where he talks later about the parts that were not so good...
Dan Pashman: And then you guys go divorced.
Dan Pashman: I want to read to you what he writes in the book. He says, "Suganthini gave me an ultimatum, return to California or she would seek a divorce. My heart sank. She was right. I had been a neglectful husband and had not been a good or faithful partner to her. She asked for a seperation and our long and fated love affair came to an end. An end that I hastened by my in attentiveness and ambition. I am incapable of expressing how much shame I still carry over this, my biggest failure." What do you think of that?
Christy: I don't know. I don't know. I'm not with him anymore so maybe now he feel that way. I don't know but at that time I don't think that he feel that way. Because I came here to be with my kids because my daughter-in-law she has a baby, right? So then I heard that he brought somebody to the house, stay in the bedroom, same bedroom, then it's like—I say, "Okay, forget it. That's it for me. I stood by him for so many years and through all this until we're broke. We don't have anything. We moved to Cambodia. I say, okay. I go with him to stand by him hoping all the time that he's changed but then he act unfaithfulness again. Not just gambling but another thing. Then I say, "That's it."
Dan Pashman: After Christy and Ted divorced, Ted married the woman he’d had the affair with. That marriage also ended in divorce. Now Ted is married for a third time. Christy remarried too, and stayed in southern California. These days both Christy and Ted are mostly retired. Even though there are still a lot of donut shops in the area called Christy’s, she doesn’t have any stake in them, Ted lost them all. Before Christy and I said goodbye, I had one more question for her—
Dan Pashman: Do you think he's changed now?
Christy: That's hard for me to tell because I don't live with him so I don't know if he's still gambling or he still do bad things. I don't know. I hope. I just hope.
Dan Pashman: So Christy still has her questions about Ted. But overall, the reception he got at the festival was overwhelmingly positive. If this book and the trip to Long Beach were Ted’s way of seeking redemption, it seemed like he found it.
Dan Pashman: What do you of the response?
Ted Ngoy: Wow, it's tremendous. I didn't expect so much support from Cambodian-American friends here. So I'm so extremely happy here, very happy.
Dan Pashman: By now it was mid afternoon, and as Ted and I left the festival, it sort of felt like it was time for a donut.
Dan Pashman: Alright Ted.
Ted Ngoy: yes.
Dan Pashman: So this is Sweet Retreat donuts.
Ted Ngoy: Yes, yes.
Dan Pahsman: Are you ready?
Ted Ngoy: Yes, I'm ready.
Dan Pashman: You remember in part one of our story I met Dary and Sreyrot Chan, they were the young couple bringing gourmet donuts to Long Beach at their place Sweet Retreat. I took Ted there so he could check it out. Sandy came too.
Dan Pashman: Should we get a donut?
Ted Ngoy: Well, yeah. Why not?
Dan Pashman: Let's get some donuts.
Dan Pashman: I introduced Ted to Dary and Sreyrot, but they didn’t chat much at first. Ted took a seat. I could tell Dary and Sreyrot were nervous. I mean, this is like owning a fried chicken place and having Colonel Sanders walk in the door. Dary told me he really wanted Ted’s feedback on the donuts, to see if Ted had suggestions for improvements. As Ted and I waited for our donuts, I was still thinking about my conversation with Christy. It struck me that, after everything Ted had lost, he says losing her was his biggest failure. I wanted to talk more with Ted about the end of their relationship.
Dan Pashman: When we were driving over here, you were talking about Christy.
Ted Ngoy: Right.
Dan Pashman: That you said you feel a lot of shame of...
Ted Ngoy: Yeah, very ashamed. Very remorse and very sorry. It's painful for me. It's painful for Christy. You know, I hurt her. I cannot describe the pain, to ease her pain, much pain.
Dan Pashman: I asked her if she thought you've changed. She said, she wasn't sure.
Ted Ngoy: Change? Like what?
Dan Pashman: Like make different choices, not make the same mistakes.
Ted Ngoy: Mm-hmm. Hmm.
Dan Pashman: Do you feel like you changed?
Ted Ngoy: I try to avoid and I make very less mistakes right now because before I'm doing thing, I always think should I do it? Should I not do it? And then I pray to lord Jesus. I say, "Lord Jesus, what should I do? Please guide me, lead me because I don't want to make mistake from now on until I go away."
Dan Pashman: Just then, Ted’s donut arrived. A classic glazed yeast donut, just as he’d requested. And for me, Dary brought me a glazed yeast donut with no hole in the middle, sliced in half like a sandwich roll. In the middle – homemade frosting and fresh sliced strawberries. The donut was so light and soft and the frosting was so rich and creamy and then you hit those toothsome strawberries. It was basically a strawberry shortcake times infinity. Ted was very happy with his donut too.
Ted Ngoy: Ohh beautiful donut.
Dan Pashman: How can you tell?
Ted Ngoy: It looks heavy but when you touch it, it's not heavy. It's fluffy.
Dan Pashman: Very fluffy. Mmm. Mmm. Excellent donut. Excellent donut. I can tell this store must go up in volume, higher and higher.
Dan Pashman: While we were eating, Sreyrot came over to our table to say hello.
Sreyrot Chan: I actually want to say, I'm really happy to see you becuase I heard like a lot of good things about you. And then I finally get to meet you and you're like the legendary Donut King. And now that I get to me you, it's an honor. So yeah, I just want to say that to you.
Ted Ngoy: Well, I'm so happy to be here at your donut shop and I must congratulate the management that you have put up with your husband.
Sreyrot Chan: Oh, thank you.
Ted Ngoy: The store looks so clean and the donut is of high quality.
Sreyrot Chan: Thank you.
Ted Ngoy: And you always put your smile on your face. And it even continues to grow to your personality and because you're very very friendly operation.
Sreyrot Chan: Oh, thank you so much.
Ted Ngoy: And also thank you so much for saying nice thing about me. And we Cambodia, we must love each other.
Sreyrot Chan: Yes, yes. Support each other.
Ted Ngoy: United we stand, you know?
Sreyrot Chan: Thank you, thank you.
Dan Pashman: Now that the donuts had gotten Ted’s approval, everyone seemed to relaxed. Dary, Sreyrot, and Ted shared stories about running a donut shop.
Dary Chan: But it's tiring like sometime I just want to go take a nap. Because we're working about 12-16 hours a day.
Ted Ngoy: Right.
Dary Chan: And then we also got two kids on top of that.
Ted Ngoy: Right, right.
Dan Pashman: Ted's son used to sleep on the sack of flour in the back.
Sreyrot Chan: Oh really?
Dary Chan: I used to do that too, as a kid. At my sister's shop, I'll be like, I'm getting away. I'll be napping on the sack.
Ted Ngoy: That's very typical Cambodian family.
Dan Pashman: As we got up to go and Ted, Dary and Sreyrot said their goodbyes, they switched to speaking in Khmer. They kept offering that traditional Cambodian gesture to each other, hands clasped, bowing, a sign of respect. Sandy translated as Ted got more animated and emotional, offering some parting advice on running a donut shop.
[Sandy New translates for Ted Ngoy]
Ted Ngoy: Find someone that's strong, that's loving and caring and that has the ability to work together. Most important is to love each other.
Dan Pashman: When we arrived at Sweet Retreat that day, Dary and Sreyrot wanted Ted’s advice on the donuts. But it seemed the advice Ted most wanted to give was about their relationship. Take care of each other, he said, and the donuts will take care of themselves.
Dan Pashman: Ted’s new book is called The Donut King: The Rags to Riches Story of a Poor Immigrant Who Changed the World. It’s available on Amazon. Special thanks to Dary and Sreyrot Chan from Sweet Retreat Donuts in Long Beach. They were so accommodating and nice and that strawberry shortcake times infinity—I don't know what Dary calls it, that's what I call it, was ridiculous. If you're in Long Beach, go there. If you're not in Long Beach, go there. Get some donuts. They even have great vegan donuts. Go to Sweet Retreat, support them. And we can support The Sporkful. If you like this special two-part series, please share it on social media. Tell your friend about it and give us a good review in Apple Podcasts, that way other people can discover our show. Please also make sure that you're subscribed to our podcast in Apple Podcast, Stitcher, or wherever you listen. Quick reminder, We have that live taping of our spin off podcast, the advice show, Ask Mimi, starring legendary critic, Mimi Sheraton. I'm the moderator. It's Wednesday May 23rd at Union Hall in Brooklyn. Get your tickets now at unionhallny.com.