The documentary ‘The Donut King' tells the incredible story of Ted Ngoy. In April 1975, the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge. Ted, an Army officer, managed to escape with his family on the last flight out of the country. The Khmer Rouge regime went on to murder 1.5 million people in the ‘Killing Fields' between 1975 and 1979.
Thankfully Ted and his family escaped the genocide. They landed in California thanks to President Gerald Ford's policy, which insisted that the US welcome 130,000 refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia.
The family's life was a whirlwind of uncertainty until they were sponsored by a pastor from the church in Tustin, Orange County. It only took one month for Ted to realise that he would not be able to support his family on his salary as a janitor at the pastor's church.
Ted went and got two more jobs: a salesman and petrol attendant. He'd always wanted to start a business, and he was looking for inspiration. Then, one night as he watched people buy coffee and donuts across the street from the gas station where he worked, it hit him – donuts!
Ted asked the woman at the counter if saving $2,000 would be enough to open a donut shop. She told him about a training programme run by the donut chain Winchell's. It would allow him to gain experience and learn from them how to operate a donut store.
The ex-Army officer joined Winchell's trainee program. He learned to bake, take care of payroll, cleaning and sales – everything! In a year, he'd saved enough to put down a deposit on his own shop. The Donut King's empire was about to take off!
Soon Ted was looking for more shops to buy and lease, not just for profit, but to help fellow Cambodian refugees. Over the years, he helped more than 100 families follow his version of the ‘American dream'.
If you think this documentary is just about donuts, that's only half the story. Unfortunately, Ngoy had personal demons, including gambling addiction. Through interviews with his family, we learn how the bright lights of Vegas seduced him and destroyed his life.
Director Gu does an excellent job piecing together this story which is inspiring and tremendously sad in parts.
However, Ted never lets life get him down. His remarkable story should act as inspiration, and a warning. Success can have a big hole in the middle like a donut – don't fill it with gambling!