Chinese Food and Doughnuts: Why?

Classic American doughnuts and Chinese steam-table food are sold side-by-side in endless locations in California. How did these odd-bedfellow combo shops come to be? The Atlantic delves into the mystery, and finds an economic reason:

"Henry Trang, the owner of Mom's Donuts and Chinese Food to Go, a tiny hut-shaped restaurant in LA's Silverlake neighborhood, told me that when he took over the shop in 1995 it was known as California Donuts, and he focused only on the sweet stuff. Recently, though, 'a lot of [doughnut] places have been closing,' he explained while cleaning up for the night. Not wanting to see his business suffer a similar fate, he expanded his offerings. 'We have to make both. If I don't have food, maybe I don't survive.'

Back in San Francisco, Jolly Chan, the owner of the Mission District's popular Donuts and Chinese Food, echoed this sentiment. 'The rent is too high,' he told me, watching as customers queued for heaping plates of orange chicken and pot stickers. 'It cannot be empty in the morning," he said. "I have donuts and coffee for morning customers and around 10 or 11 start working in food.'"

Most of these shops are owned by Cambodians, says the Los Angeles Times, who arrived in a wave in the 1980s and started expanding to sell hot, savory food sometime afterwards: "New immigrant groups often follow one another into a single visible industry or line of work. Chinese laundries and Greek diners were paths to wider success for earlier arrivals. In Los Angeles today, get into a taxi and the driver is likely to be a Russian immigrant. In California, for Cambodians, it's doughnuts."

The Los Angeles Times lays the Cambodian doughnut domination at the feet of a man named Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian of Chinese heritage who was an ambassador to Thailand and thus luckily out of the country when Pol Pot started his murderous rampage. Deciding that returning to his home country was out of the question, Ngoy settled in California and started his own doughnut shop in 1977. His nephew, Bun H. Tao, became the godfather of California doughnut shops when he began extending credit and loaning equipment to new immigrants who wished to open their own businesses.

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