Once hailed as the Doughnut King of Southern California, Ted Ngoy releases a memoir detailing his spectacular rise and fall from grace.
One of the remarkable stories told in his memoir, “The Donut King: The Rags to Riches Story of a Poor Immigrant Who Changed the World,” released last month, is how in 1975, Ted Ngoy’s young family of five arrived at Camp Pendleton on a cargo plane from Cambodia as refugees from civil war.
Ngoy’s family moved to Tustin and was sponsored by Peace Lutheran Church. He took care of the church grounds until he found a job with a doughnut chain. He learned the ropes there before eventually purchasing a doughnut shop in La Habra with all of the money the family had saved.
“I never thought about the risk, because we had nothing to lose. We got to fulfill the American dream.” He soon opened a veritable empire of shops up and down the coast, leasing them to other Cambodian refugees to support their own families. Today, he no longer owns any shops, though a few remain in his family: “My grandchild in Santa Monica is operating one; my niece runs a shop in San Clemente called Rose Donuts.”
They still use his “secret” recipe; he scoffs when asked for it because there isn’t a secret after all: “The recipe we use is almost the same as Winchell’s or Dunkin’; the secret about it is several fresh batches. Don’t just make them one time, people don’t like it. It’s better to bake one at night, and in the morning, and keep it fresh all day. That’s the only secret.”
“There is no destiny; the destiny is you. You can make it happen or let it fail.”
What happened to the rest of his hundreds of shops? After amassing great wealth, purchasing a pricey five-bedroom home in La Habra, and becoming influential in local and national U.S. politics (he counted Nixon as a friend), Ngoy developed a gambling addiction. In the end, he lost nearly everything—love, wealth, and respect. “A man at 75 years old is always thinking about his legacy: good, bad, or ugly. I feel like I’m obligated to the younger generation to tell the truth about my life: the success, the failure, the struggle, struggle, struggle. Many times I have become penniless and started my life again.”
Ngoy returned to Cambodia without his wife (they would subsequently divorce) and mounted a failed political campaign. A 2005 profile in the Los Angeles Times described him as “broke, homeless, and dependent on the goodwill of his few remaining friends.” Today, he makes a living selling real estate in Cambodia. And he has a new goal.
“Opening an education foundation in Cambodia is my big future dream. It will take millions and millions of dollars to run. I hope the book will sell a million dollars so I can use that as seed money to start the foundation. I just want to extend my helping hand to the community.”
He still has warm feelings toward the breakfast pastry that gave him his first American dream. “I still love doughnuts, especially in the morning. The first thing I get is a hot glazed doughnut and a cup of coffee. That’s my most favorite time.”