It took two years for Danette Kuoch to persuade her dad and mom to start accepting bank cards at California Donuts, her household’s 40-year-old doughnut store on Third Avenue in Koreatown. Subsequent got here new toppings and fillings, like Fruity Pebbles and complete Snickers bars, a departure from the store’s traditional sugared rings, glazed twists, and craggy buttermilk bars. Launching a social media account quickly adopted, and designing branded containers and luggage not lengthy after. Since becoming a member of the household enterprise in 2003, Kuoch, alongside together with her youthful sister Stephanie Kudo, have tripled California Donuts’s gross sales, amassed 365,000 Instagram followers, and made their household’s humble store stand out within the Southland’s crowded doughnut market. The store’s runaway success gave their dad and mom — Cambodian refugees who escaped the Khmer Rouge, mastered the doughnut trade, and raised their households inside their retailers’ 4 partitions — the peace of thoughts that they wanted to lastly retire in 2020 and to depart the enterprise of their daughters’ palms.
Meet the “doughnut kids,” second-generation Cambodian Individuals who grew up bathing in industrial kitchen sinks as infants, promoting lottery tickets after faculty, and folding infinite stacks of pink boxes throughout summer time breaks. This new class of doughnut entrepreneurs witnessed their dad and mom working early mornings and late nights, seven days every week — and internalized each the struggles and successes of working a small household enterprise.
With minimal startup prices and little English proficiency required, working doughnut retailers gave Cambodian refugees a foothold within the American financial system within the ’70s and ’80s. Ted Ngoy, whose life was memorialized within the 2020 documentary The Donut King, realized the ins and outs of the doughnut enterprise by enrolling within the manager-training program at Winchell’s after fleeing Phnom Penh in 1975. He helped to popularize the commerce throughout the Cambodian American neighborhood, creating an enormous community of independently owned doughnut retailers which have proved to be formidable competitors to national chains. It’s estimated that roughly 80 percent of Southern California’s doughnut shops are Cambodian-owned.
Because the retirement-age house owners of Los Angeles’s beloved doughnut retailers develop prepared to hold up their aprons, some doughnut children, like Kuoch and Kudo, are keen to hold on their household’s enterprise and remodel it right into a family title. Different second-generation children, nevertheless, grapple with how their household’s demanding mom-and-pop retailers match into their busy lives. These shops, working in practically each strip mall throughout town, verify that doughnuts are an indelible a part of Angeleno meals tradition — steeped in its financial system, its historical past, and its panorama. However the way forward for LA’s doughnut retailers, it appears, rests within the palms of the following era — an inflection level which can change how these companies function, keep related, and survive shifting ahead.
The very last thing Kuoch and Kudo’s dad and mom wished was for his or her daughters to work alongside them at California Donuts. Their dad and mom emphasised the significance of training and requested them to attempt towards one thing “quote-unquote ‘higher,’” Kudo says, not realizing that Kuoch and Kudo thought of the work of working the store not solely beneficial however a method to honor the sacrifices their dad and mom made after immigrating to America to present them extra alternatives. Despite their dad and mom’ persistent push towards careers past doughnuts, the 2 sisters discovered their approach again to the enterprise after making an attempt their palms at different pursuits.
Kuoch, who labored for a number of companies all through faculty, remembers the second when she determined to dedicate her profession to her household’s enterprise. “Anyone at college mentioned one thing alongside the traces of, ‘Why did you go to varsity when you’re simply going to work at a doughnut store?’ That lit a hearth in me,” she says. Kuoch returned to California Donuts instantly after ending her diploma in enterprise administration from Cal State Fullerton. “I simply realized that I can proceed to work for any individual else and permit them to drive good fancy automobiles or I can do it for my dad and mom,” she says.
Kudo launched her personal clothes line earlier than becoming a member of her sister and oldsters a decade in the past at California Donuts when gross sales skyrocketed as the results of her sister’s advertising efforts. “When my sister and I began actually entering into the enterprise, I keep in mind my mother saying that she by no means actually wished us to work as onerous as she did,” says Kudo. “It was a professional and a con, like she was actually proud that we joined the household enterprise, however on the identical time it sort of harm her to need to see us work lengthy hours as effectively.”
Passing alongside the household enterprise was by no means a part of the plan for a lot of getting old dad and mom of doughnut children. “I don’t assume numerous doughnut dad and mom need their children to be within the doughnut enterprise as a result of it’s a tough life — it truly is,” says Adam Vaun, who took over his household’s enterprise, DK’s Donuts in Orange, in 2007. “I had an epiphany the place I used to be identical to, my dad and mom are getting older and I’m gonna have to essentially step up simply to guarantee that they’re taken care of.”
For Mayly Tao, working at DK’s Donuts in Santa Monica (unrelated to DK’s Donuts in Orange) was extra about practicality than ardour at first. Although she lent a hand on the store on weekends whereas attending faculty in San Diego, she solely returned after graduating from faculty in 2012 because of slim profession prospects. “I simply felt so defeated coming again,” she says. “However as I began to work my regular shifts, I truly had a unique imaginative and prescient. Going to varsity opened my eyes to the chances of what this doughnut store may very well be. And at that time I made a decision, ‘Hey, what? I’m going to guarantee that folks from throughout LA and everywhere in the world know this doughnut store.’ That’s my purpose.”
Educated, business-minded, and well-versed in social media and expertise, doughnut children like Tao possess ambition that was unprecedented a era in the past. Whereas their dad and mom operated doughnut retailers as a method to an finish, doughnut children are utilizing social media to develop their attain past neighborhood regulars and remodeling the Southern California doughnut business in consequence. With doughnut children taking the helm — and the tandem rise of Instagram food culture and gourmet doughnuts — some mom-and-pop doughnut retailers remodeled seemingly in a single day into singular locations.
Crystal Quach, who grew up frosting doughnuts, brewing espresso, and promoting lottery tickets at her household’s doughnut store Mr. Steve’s in Rosemead, encountered related parental pushback. Regardless that Quach knew from an early age that she wished to comply with in her dad and mom’ entrepreneurial footsteps, they refused to entertain the thought till she graduated from Cal State Los Angeles and gained some real-world expertise. Solely after checking these two important containers was Quach capable of dedicate herself full-time at Recent Donuts in Lake Perris, considered one of her household’s two present doughnut retailers. “I at all times gravitated towards doughnuts as a result of watching my dad and mom run their store, it’s greater than only a enterprise — it’s a neighborhood,” she says. After seeing her thrive amid the store’s tough prospects, demanding inventories, and even plumbing mishaps, Quach’s dad and mom gave her their blessing to open a store of her personal, Class One Donuts in Glendora, in 2019.
When Quach initially purchased the store from its proprietor of two years, profitable over the loyalty of regulars took effort and time. The primary six months had been “robust” as locals adjusted to seeing a unique face and a unique array of doughnuts behind the counter. “We needed to cope with a unfavourable vibe at first,” she says. “However I received them over. I realized their names, realized their children’ names, and realized their orders. Over time, the regulars that had been used to the earlier proprietor turned our regulars.”
Advertising and marketing was one other massive change for the enterprise. “You simply need to sustain with the occasions,” says Quach. “Again then, my dad and mom didn’t have the chance to promote it freely within the palm of their palms.” Sustaining a web-based presence retains regulars up-to-date on the newest flavors whereas attracting curious newcomers, she says. Tapping into Instagram and its huge community of content material creators again in 2013 — an period earlier than pay-to-play algorithms, paid commercials, and influencer management firms — proved to be pivotal to increasing the attain of each California Donuts and DK’s Donuts in Santa Monica. After a good friend of Kuoch’s began California Donuts’ Instagram account, she “studied” intently how companies grew their audiences by offering free meals to influencers. “They wished our doughnuts on their feed and we wished them to submit about us, so it was a pleasant commerce again within the day,” she says. “It helped us push the enterprise into the following era,” says Kudo.
Each retailers additionally benefited from the eye of native meals media. The Santa Monica DK’s Donuts attracted lengthy traces for years after Jeff Miller wrote about its take on Dominique Ansel’s Cronut in Thrillist in 2013. “My mother and I truly labored 20-hour days simply to guarantee that all people acquired a contemporary Cronut,” says Tao. Crowds equally descended on California Donuts after Kristin Hunt swooned over the shop’s Snickers-stuffed doughnuts, additionally in Thrillist, a yr later.
Tao understood the significance of eye-catching branding for social media. “Once I stepped in, we nonetheless had our previous signal within the groovy ’80s font,” she says. Like many Cambodian-owned doughnut retailers that opened within the ’70s and ’80s, DK’s Donuts packed its dozens into plain pink pastry boxes. Although personalized packaging emblazoned with the store’s newly designed brand value six occasions greater than the pink ones, Tao says that in addition they served as “strolling commercials.” “Now it’s aesthetically pleasing for Instagram and to point out off like, ‘Hey guys, I’m at this cool doughnut store, they make the best flavors,’” says Tao.
Lily Ung creates customized doughnut designs at her household’s 33-year-old store Fantastic Donuts, positioned on the southeast fringe of Koreatown. The story of the household’s store is considered one of stark resilience: Incredible Donuts burned down in the course of the 1992 Los Angeles rebellion. Whereas insurance coverage lined 1 / 4 of the price to rebuild the store, Ung’s father labored as a baker at one other doughnut store and a cook dinner at a hamburger stand to boost the remainder of the funds. Along with his willpower, the store was capable of reopen a yr later.
Ung joined her father behind the counter in 2015 particularly to maintain up with tendencies. “I pushed this branding of spreading happiness with doughnuts as a result of I actually love when purchasers share our doughnuts with everybody and I actually love that response, ‘Oh my god, that is so cool, that is so completely different,’” she says. “I didn’t count on to come back again to the doughnut store however I wished to point out [my parents] I can do one thing completely different. I undoubtedly can deliver one thing to the desk with social media, with the brand new period.” Ung plans to take over Incredible Donuts as soon as her dad and mom retire within the years forward.
With tons of of 1000’s of social media followers and a rising demand for specialty doughnuts, the doughnut children add gas to the frenzy by continuously introducing unique flavors. Out-of-the-box, hard-to-get doughnuts feed completely into the development of consuming extremely coveted meals and sharing the expertise on-line. “Somebody coined us ‘the Willy Wonka of doughnuts’ as a result of we simply have an infinite provide of flavors,” says Kudo, who takes credit score for introducing the now-ubiquitous panda doughnut made with Oreo cookie ears to the world.
“There have been nights the place I might lay down to fall asleep and I’m like, ‘I gotta do this taste tomorrow,’” says Kuoch. “With that, plus social media, it simply sort of spiraled. In the future we ran out of doughnuts so early within the morning and we simply saved including increasingly more and extra [to replenish].”
Tao says that previous to taking the advertising reins at DK’s Donuts, the “craziest” taste the store provided was a cinnamon roll. She takes credit score for creating the first-ever ube-flavored doughnut in Los Angeles and single-handedly bringing the Cronut craze to the West Coast. DK’s Donuts produced over 25 completely different croissant-doughnut hybrids starting from Nutella to cookie butter on the top of the Cronut phenomenon. Seeing her creations fly off the cabinets impressed additional innovation, together with savory pizza and sizzling Cheeto flavors. “It was like a excessive individual’s dream,” says Tao. “Individuals like these bizarre, loopy flavors.”
At Knead Donuts in Lengthy Seashore, founder Huey Behuynh works intently together with his spouse, Lynn, and their 27-year-old daughter, Amy, to maintain the store’s doughnut choice present and attractive. Along with riffing on flavors and types made fashionable at different native retailers, just like the Donut Man’s Tiger Tail and Sidecar Doughnuts’ huckleberry cake doughnut, the trio dreamed up wholly distinctive combos like Thai tea creme brulee, cinnamon sugar churro, and even pungent durian.
Others are giving traditional raised and glazed doughnuts a contemporary makeover by making use of clever designs to them. Ung started intricately icing animal-inspired doughnuts at Incredible Donuts in 2015 and has since expanded her repertoire to incorporate holiday- and character-themed doughnuts, like Easter, Pokémon, and Pac-Man.
Linda Ngoy Cuff — who took over B.C. Donuts in Pasadena from her dad and mom, permitting them to retire in 2017 — created a line of festive doughnuts timed with Mom’s Day and Valentine’s Day celebrations. “I might work slightly further when it got here to adorning particular issues,” she says. Whereas the monetary advantages of those efforts weren’t instantly mirrored within the store’s backside line, Ngoy Cuff was prepared to commit further time adorning doughnuts as a way to market the enterprise otherwise and to usher in extra prospects.
Some doughnut children have even discovered a distinct segment for doughnuts past breakfast. When Tao’s dad and mom initially opened their Santa Monica store, it was primarily geared towards “the working folks to come back in and seize one thing.” However now, she says, DK’s Donuts has grow to be a “vacation spot” in any respect hours. Kudo has additionally skilled this phenomenon: “We nonetheless have our morning rush, nevertheless it’s truly extra busy within the night now. Everyone seems to be beginning to come out for desserts,” she says.
Doughnut children have additionally branched out into different alternatives like customized orders, together with for large-scale occasions. Doughnut letters that spell out “blissful birthday” or “get effectively quickly” might be ordered on-line and delivered to doorsteps. The recognition of Instagrammable moments at giant gatherings like child showers and weddings led to doughnut retailers creating elaborate doughnut shows that adhered to particular themes and coloration schemes. Companies and film studios hopped on board the development by gifting branded doughnuts to influential tastemakers that coincided with movie or tv promotions. California Donuts, for instance, just lately partnered with Pixar to supply doughnuts adorned to seem like crimson pandas as a part of a marketing campaign for the discharge of Turning Purple.
The elevated demand for doughnuts in any respect hours has additionally modified the rhythm of working and staffing retailers. “When my dad and mom opened [California Donuts], it was one baker and they’d bake within the night. All of the doughnuts they’d within the morning would promote all day lengthy,” says Kudo. “Now, to create all of the flavors and the amount that we’d like, we’ve got a again kitchen workers of like 5 folks per shift. Within the entrance, my mother was once the one one working and now we’ve got 4 or 5 folks within the entrance at one given shift.” Moreover, the store staffs quite a few shift managers and even has an worker devoted to filling customized orders.
Whereas California Donuts continues to function 24 hours a day by juggling three to 4 completely different worker shifts, many doughnut children are rethinking their hours of operation to prioritize relaxation and keep away from burnout. When Ngoy Cuff and her older siblings, Ken and Annette, took possession of B.C. Donuts, they agreed to maneuver away from 24/7 operations to 6 days every week and shutting at 4 p.m. on weekdays, with even shorter hours on weekends. Their dad and mom, together with practically each doughnut store proprietor of their era, saved prolonged hours for worry of lacking out on a sale, a apply that was pushed partially by a sort of shortage mentality attribute amongst refugees. The siblings additionally scheduled time away from the store so that every individual may are inclined to life issues.
“I wish to attend my youngsters’s faculty occasions and spend the weekend with them,” says Ngoy Cuff. “Rising up my dad and mom didn’t do any of that. My brothers and sisters and I didn’t count on dad and mom to point out up for back-to-school evening, to assist with homework. Now, it’s completely different.”
Along with limiting Class One Donuts’ hours to early mornings and afternoons, Quach is devoted to taking a day or two off every week to recharge, and offers the identical alternatives to her staff, together with her husband, who give up his full-time job within the well being care business to run the store alongside her. “Relaxation is so necessary as a result of whenever you’re working on this business, it’s important to be there one hundred pc and provides your finest customer support,” she says. “[Rest is] a rarity for my household. All my uncles and aunts and my dad and mom work seven days straight and so they’re at all times drained. They don’t have the stability of having fun with life outdoors the doughnut store.” After seeing robust gross sales at Class One Donuts despite decreased hours, Quach’s dad and mom adopted go well with and restricted their retailers’ hours in Lake Perris and at Day by day Donuts in South LA; longtime prospects have adjusted their routines to accommodate the brand new schedule.
Although success and stability might be gratifying for doughnut children, the grueling realities of the doughnut enterprise might be tough to stability with life’s unpredictable twists. Working B.C. Donuts turned untenable for Ngoy Cuff and her siblings when COVID hit and their father’s most cancers returned in 2020. Overseeing distant studying and spending time with an ailing father or mother, all whereas ensuring the store’s staff may pay their mortgages, proved to be an excessive amount of, and the siblings determined to promote the store.
“It’s a household enterprise, however now we’ve got to be within the enterprise of what’s finest for the household,” Ngoy Cuff says. “I used to be in tears about it, however then I mentioned to myself that at the moment I’m 60 p.c enterprise proprietor, 60 p.c father or mother, and 60 p.c being current as a daughter for my dad when he was sick and wanted me. I felt like at that time with the stress, one thing needed to give.” Their father handed away a month after the store was offered in early 2021. After promoting the store, Ngoy Cuff gave delivery to her third little one and relishes touring together with her siblings, which wasn’t potential whereas working the doughnut store collectively.
When Tao’s mom, Cheong Pek Lee, introduced that she was able to retire in 2021, Tao was initially bowled over by the information. “This has been part of my id, part of my life since I used to be slightly woman. It has been one thing I view as my ardour, being the doughnut princess at DK’s Donuts,” she says. Regardless that Tao raised the store’s native and nationwide profile and tripled the shop’s gross sales throughout her tenure, Lee was a necessary piece of the puzzle when it got here to executing recipes and working the again finish of the enterprise. “The [Cambodian] household that purchased it may purchase any doughnut store for a cheaper price, however they wished to purchase DK’s due to the branding, due to the next, due to what’s already been arrange for them,” Tao says.
Regardless that Tao is not working DK’s Donuts day by day, her palms stay within the doughnut enterprise by means of her firm Donut Princess, a service that provides consulting to doughnut retailers trying to “change with the occasions” and to extend gross sales by means of branding, advertising, and social media. Tao additionally sells bespoke doughnut bouquets and hosts a podcast referred to as Short N’ Sweet the place she explores entrepreneurship and celebrates small companies. “Throughout my time at DK’s, I developed plantar fasciitis from standing for 20 hours a day. And so now it’s all about therapeutic and ensuring that no matter enterprise I do is extra of this stability, there isn’t this sense of tremendous burnt out and high-stress,” she says. “My priorities have shifted as I’m getting older now and realizing that point is definitely the largest type of wealth.”
A number of years in the past, Quach puzzled aloud to her father what would occur to all of the doughnut retailers as soon as their house owners retired. ‘The brand new wave of immigrants from Cambodia are coming. We’re gonna train them the doughnut enterprise,” Quach remembers him saying. “In case you’re immigrating from Cambodia on this era, your alternative is the doughnut store,” she says. Quach has witnessed her father’s prediction come true, with newly immigrated family working in doughnut retailers to be taught the enterprise and to save cash to open shops of their very own. Doughnut retailers change palms typically throughout the native Cambodian neighborhood between new immigrants and Cambodian Individuals. Each Quach’s and Behuynh’s doughnut retailers had been owned by ready-to-retire, first-generation entrepreneurs, whereas Ngoy Cuff offered her Pasadena-based store to a distant cousin.
Kuoch’s three youngsters, ranging in ages from a latest faculty graduate to a present highschool scholar, all have one foot out the door of California Donuts — at their mom’s insistence. “As a lot as I would like them concerned, I additionally need them to discover different choices as a result of working a doughnut store, working a household enterprise, working any enterprise is a sacrifice, and for them, they’ve an opportunity at simply seeing what’s on the market,” she says.
Vaun at DK’s Donuts in Orange is at the moment opening a second doughnut store referred to as Downtown Donuts in Brea together with a enterprise companion. He likens the brand new store’s high-end and design-forward aesthetic to luxurious vogue label Louis Vuitton. “I really feel like my dad and mom have constructed this legacy of sacrifice, blood, sweat, and tears,” he says. “I take numerous delight in persevering with their doughnut legacy as a result of that represents what occurred to them in Cambodia and what they constructed right here. Our purpose is to push the doughnut business to new heights.”
After discovering their very own voice and goal amid an older era’s American dream, doughnut children are preserving, innovating on, and persevering with a uniquely Khemerican expertise. “Regardless that this doughnut store might not essentially be my dream, it’s my household’s dream and it’s our legacy. It’s our story,” says Kudo. Although it’s inconceivable to foretell the way forward for LA’s independently owned doughnut retailers as the following era weighs whether or not to take management of their household’s enterprise, to go on the torch, or to reimagine the doughnut enterprise altogether, one factor is for certain — the doughnut children are all proper.