One of my close friend’s late mother would use the euphemism of people going “from sugar to sh*t” to highlight falls from grace and that expression best describes the later life of Ted Ngoy, subject of the newly released documentary THE DONUT KING. It is one of the best 2020 films I’ve seen, courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, and truly a must see.
Here’s the synopsis: Ted’s story is one of fate, love, survival, hard knocks, and redemption. It’s the rags to riches story of a refugee escaping Cambodia, arriving in America in 1975 and building an unlikely multi-million-dollar empire baking America’s favorite pastry, the donut. Ted sponsored hundreds of visas for incoming refugees and helped them get on their feet teaching them the ways of the donut business. By 1979 he was living the American Dream. But, in life, great rise can come with great falls.
Not only did Ngoy escape Cambodia and extreme poverty to become a savvy and affluent businessman in the United States, but he also helped fellow refugees and family members to establish franchises and transition – which often included housing them in his own home.
Unfortunately, poor choices, which included a gambling addiction and infidelity, led to him losing much of the wealth he’d attained and ultimately his marriage.
And the love story displayed with his wife Christy is one for the storybooks, until it wasn’t. Ngoy, as a poor Cambodian young man, literally hid for 45 days under his wife’s bed to court her – and hide from her father, who was a high government official.
Once escaping to the United States with Christy and their two children, he worked odd jobs – one as a gas station attendant across from a donut shop where he regularly smelled the treat. When Ngoy got his first taste, he said the donut strongly reminded him of a cake made in his native Cambodia called Nom.
He was able to enter an affirmative action program and work at the donut chain Windell’s, where he eventually became manager of a franchise, and by 1977 had opened his own shop. That action subsequently led to him purchasing and franchising additional stores, becoming Windell’s biggest local competitor.
Writer/director Alice Gu expertly crafts Ngoy’s story with first-hand accounts and historical footage that depicts tragedy, followed by great triumph, loss and finally redemption. It’s a riveting tale that captures and holds one’s attention through the final credits. I rate it 5 out of 5 beats on the MMTrometer.
Until next thought, Thomasena