SXSW 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! What do President Jimmy Carter, Cambodian refugees, and donuts have in common? Director Alice Gu’s The Donut King answers that question in a unique, highly entertaining manner that one would not have guessed based on a simple synopsis. The documentary is about how one man, Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian refugee, built a multi-million dollar business, sponsored hundreds of immigrants fleeing the same hardships he faced, and then lost it all.
If you guessed that his business empire was that of donut shops, excellent use of context clues. Ted and his family fled the violence ripping Cambodia apart in the late 1970s. After spending a spell in a refugee camp in Thailand, the Ngoys are sponsored by a church in California. They set Ted up with a janitorial job at the church. He was more than happy to have that job but soon realized that he couldn’t raise a family on its salary.
“…he begins to sponsor refugee families and puts them to work in his donut shops.”
After going through a few odd jobs here and there, Ted lands a spot at Winchell’s Donuts. He is instantly smitten with the food and the work involved. So, after saving a bit, he buys his own storefront and opens a donut shop. It proves a huge success. Having now established himself as a successful businessman giving back to the country that took him in, he decides to return the generosity he received.
So, he begins to sponsor refugee families and puts them to work in his donut shops. Soon, Ted would own scores of stores, operating a successful venture with hard-workers who were happy at the chance for employment. As with most success stories, there is an inevitable but…
But, Ted began gambling. This was not just a side bet on a horse race here, or a card game with friends and low stakes. This was of the Reno or Las Vegas casino big money, winner takes all variety. Though, as the old saying goes, “the house always wins.” Soon, Ted finds himself in hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of dollars in debt.