When Ted Ngoy arrived in southern California in 1975, he had never had a donut.
Ted and his family were among the first wave of refugees to flee Cambodia's Khmer Rouge genocide in the late 1970s. They arrived in Orange County, near LA, with a few suitcases and no money.
At first Ted worked as a janitor, but then he started working nights at a gas station to make ends meet. That's where Ted saw his first donut shop.
"It's like this beacon of goodness of America," says Greg Nichols, a journalist who’s written about Ted Ngoy and the donut industry in California. "So he'd go there and get donuts and something in his mind was like, 'Donuts! I can do something with this.'"
Ted saved up money and opened his first shop (top, circa 1977). Then he opened more. Around this time, things in Cambodia got worse, and a new wave of refugees arrived.
Ted and his wife sponsored visas for refugees, set them up with donut shops, trained them in the business, and took a cut of their profits in return. By 1985, ten years after Ted arrived in California with nothing, he was making $100,000 a month.
Ted was living the American Dream. People in the community started calling him "The Donut King."
But it didn’t last. In a very short time, Ted lost it all. And then, he disappeared.
He may not be around, but Ted's legacy lives on. Today there are 5,000 independent donut shops in California, and 90 percent are owned by Cambodians.
This week on The Sporkful, we're exploring the world the donut king built -- and trying to find him.
Listen in to the full episode for those conversations, and to hear what happens in our search for "The Donut King."
-Dary and Sreyrot Chan's gourmet donut shop Sweet Retreat in Long Beach, CA
- Go to AmazonMusic.com to start your free 30-day trial
- Go to BobsRedMill.com to explore their huge range of products and recipes
- Go to MrClean.com/Sporkful to learn how the Magic Eraser can help you clean up around the house
- Go to SpiceIslands.com/Sporkful for spice facts and recipes
Interstitial music in this episode from Black Label Music:
- "Hang Tight" by Hayley Briasco
- "I Still Can't Believe" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- "Alee" by Hayley Briasco
- "False Alarm" by Hayley Briasco
- "Mouse Song" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- "Narwhal" by Casey Hjelmberg
Photos: Dan Pashman, FlickrCC/waltarrrrr, and courtesy of Ted Ngoy