The Donut King

Movie Information

It's an upbeat immigrant success story with sprinkles and cream — and even a late twist.
Genre: Documentary
Director: Alice Gu
Starring: Ted Ngoy, Chuong Pek Lee, Susan Lim
Rated: NR

It’s not as bonkers as Tiger King, but The Donut King is still a remarkable story, plus it’s about a much more palatable business. Cambodian immigrant Ted Ngoy, with his family’s tireless support, single-handedly created a doughnut shop empire up and down California and even fended off an incursion by Dunkin’ Donuts in the 1970s and ’80s — and first-time documentary filmmaker Alice Gu had access to all the players needed to tell the tale. It’s a largely upbeat immigrant narrative about how one man’s determination created a path to success for a whole community of families.

It’s not all sprinkles and cream, though. To explain Ngoy’s rise, Gu goes back to Cambodia in the early ’70s, when President Richard Nixon’s relentless Vietnam War destabilized the country, which led to the rise of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. The brutality described and the archival images are harsh, and even after Ngoy’s escape and triumph in the U.S., there’s a late twist — and not just in the crullers.

As a small-business success story, The Donut King is at once instructional — find a niche, work hard, reuse the coffee sticks — and also unrepeatable. Labor laws, prices and cultural shifts have since closed down Ngoy’s path to advancement. As a family narrative, however, the dynamics are as true today as ever.

There are a few holes in The Donut King — people not fully introduced, fates left foggy. But Gu’s interviews are notably confessional and honest, and she brings the documentary to a smart close with a look at current artisanal doughnut trends, which have been visible even in Asheville. You might want to plan ahead for your own screening: A fresh dozen from Hole or Vortex could bring the film’s subject matter right up to your face.

Available to rent via and


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