By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Donut King / Ted Ngoy

Don’t expect recipes when you pick up Ted Ngoy’s memoir, “The Donut King.” And don’t assume a light-hearted romp, either.

Ngoy, who fled his native Cambodia because of the horrific, life-threatening conditions imposed by the Khmer Rouge, tells a serious story of growing up in poverty, struggling to get an education and digging in his heels in an effort to win the love of a girl from a higher, wealthier class. Together at last, they had a few peaceful years, then had to run for their lives.

The book is worth reading for that part of the story alone. The Cambodia horrors played out on the world stage, during and after the Vietnam War, but most Americans didn’t pay much attention. Ngoy offers an insider’s look.

Ngoy and his family settled in California, penniless and ignorant of the culture and language, and depended on the kindness of strangers to help them settle in and find work. Ngoy went through management training with Winchell’s Donuts, ran one of the chain’s shops, then purchased his own business.

Good with people and adept at seeing opportunity, Ngoy started buying up defunct donut shops and building some from scratch, as well. He leased them to other Cambodian immigrants, whom he trained to run them profitably.

Soon he was a rich man and something of a “Godfather” to California’s Cambodian community. He even got into politics with the goal of improving the lives of Southeast Asian immigrants.

Just when his life seemed perfect, he took a trip to Las Vegas. He didn’t gamble the first time, but soon returned to make a few $5 bets for fun. Those turned into $50 bets, then $500 bets.

For a long time, the money didn’t really matter; he was rich, after all. Ngoy was addicted to the gambling itself, along with the seemingly respectful treatment by the casino employees.

A Buddhist, he tried to cure his gambling addiction by spending time living as a monk in a temple. As soon as he left the ascetic life, though, he went right back to the blackjack table and quickly ran through his fortune.

Only when he turned to Christianity did he begin to heal. Now 77, Ngoy says he decided to write his memoir in hopes of helping others. Specifically, he said, proceeds will go toward providing education to children in Cambodia.

“The Donut King: The Rags to Riches Story of a Poor Immigrant Who Changed the World,” by Ted Ngoy, 2018, self-published and available on Amazon and other book selling sites.

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