A documentary showing at BendFilm Festival, “The Donut King,” is not merely about fried breakfast treats, it’s an immigrant’s tale of starting a business and achieving the American Dream. It’s entertaining, filled with drama, romance and historical footage with surprising twists; and throughout the story, we learn about the donut business on the West Coast.
The story of “The Donut King” begins in Cambodia in the 1970s during the Vietnam War period. The Khmer Rouge army had invaded the country and was killing Cambodians. As they were allies in our fight against communism in the region, the U.S. set up refugee camps here in America. In the movie, there is historical footage of a speech by President Gerald Ford who was saying, “The country has had a long tradition of opening its doors to immigrants. … The people that we are welcoming today are individuals who are contributing significantly to our society in the future, and I believe they will make a contribution now and in the future to a better America.” The story of “The Donut King” is a case in point.
Bun Tek Ngoy (who later changed his name to Ted Ngoy) was able to bring his extended family to the United States as refugees. One day he smelled a sweet cake aroma that reminded him of the Nom Kong cakes he had in Cambodia. It was a donut shop. He wanted to own a donut shop, and it was recommended that he train at Winchell’s donuts. Thus began the journey that took Ted Ngoy from refugee to become the Donut King who would go on to sponsor over 2,500 Cambodian refugees and teach them the donut business.
At the height of Ngoy’s success, the movie claims that of the 5,000 privately owned donut shops in America, 95% were owned by Cambodians. You’ll have to see the film to see the dramatic twists and turns that ensued.
The documentary also cites that typically there is one donut shop per 35,000 people (and in Los Angles, it’s one shop per 7,000 people).
In Bend, we have four privately owned shops (and The Dough Nut has two locations). Watching “The Donut King” inspired me to give the local donut shops a try.
It’s important to preface that, while I will occasionally visit donut shops — like Voodoo Donuts or Blue Star Donuts in Portland, or pop into a Krispy Kremes when I find one — my preference for morning sweets are bakeries. This was my first time visiting each location here in Bend.
It’s overwhelming how many kinds of donuts there are in each shop’s case. There are: glazed, raised, jelly-filled, cream-filled, cake, old-fashioned, long johns, twists, crullers, cider donuts, fritters, cronuts and more. To compare shops, I limited my selections to a cake donut, a raised glazed donut, a jelly donut and old-fashioneds. This allowed for a direct comparison, but I may have missed that one special donut at each shop.
When I consulted with several donut-loving friends, there was someone who claimed each of our local donut shops as their favorite. After making the rounds, I chose not to rate the shops. Instead, I leave it to you to be inspired and decide for yourself.
Delish Donuts (Bend River Promenade, 3188 N. Highway 97, Bend)
Located near Macy’s in the Bend River Promenade, Julie and David Morris and their family opened Delish Donuts 11 years ago. Julie told me that she pays close attention to the oil temperature for the perfect crisp and soft combination. Her care is apparent in the taste and consistency of the donuts.
Delish Donuts was the only place in town that I found a cronut. A cronut is a cross between a croissant and a donut. A relatively new creation, the idea came from a donut shop in New York seven years ago. The buttery croissant ingredients cut the sugary flavor and add even more air pockets than a typical raised donut. The cronut I had was glazed and crispy on the outside. Some will have jelly or chocolate. It was one of my favorite donuts of all I tried.
There were several old-fashioned donuts. I chose one with cinnamon and sugar. It was crispy on the outside with a light cake interior and a hint of sour to balance the sweetness.
The chocolate frosted cake donut was also a stand-out. It tasted individually made, where the cocoa in the chocolate was flavor-forward, giving dimension to the frosting.
The Dough Nut (1227 NW Galveston Ave. and 755 NW Greenwood Ave., in Bend)
There are two locations of The Dough Nut. The Westside location opened in 2012, and more recently, they added the Midtown location. The first thing I noticed was the size of the raised donuts. They were all large and puffy. Along with classic types of donuts, there were unique donuts like peanut butter and jelly and Butterfinger donuts.
The Nutella frosted raised donut called to me. The large, pillowy donut compressed with each bite. A slight hint of hazelnut in the frosting added a twist to the typical chocolate frosted donut. The maple bar was likewise light and airy.
My favorite donut here was the raspberry-filled jelly donut with a generous dusting of powdered sugar. Its light interior was filled with a fruity jelly that balanced the sweetness.
Richards Donuts & Pastries (61419 S. Highway 97, Bend)
The largest and longest-established donut shop is Richards Donuts & Pastries. It is a classic donut shop that was opened in 1999. Along those lines, you’ll see the iconic pink donut box that was made popular by none other than the Donut King himself.
Richard’s Donuts’ cake donuts are quite dense. They offer many types of frosting and sprinkles that require a dense base. The chocolate cake donut with chocolate frosting and sprinkles went well with a cold glass of milk.
Again, it was the classic jelly donut that stood out. The raised airy donut had a light glaze. As I bit into the layers, compressing the donut, refreshing raspberry jelly oozed out.
Note that Richards Donuts currently is only taking cash. I came up a bit short. Rather than let me put back a donut, they took a dollar from the tip jar (of course, I returned later to pay it back). It felt much like the neighborhood shops in the movie.
Sweetheart Donuts (210 SE 3rd St., Bend)
If you know the donuts you want by name, you can use the drive-thru at Sweetheart Donuts. The donuts here are artsy and pretty.
I picked a chocolate frosted raised donut with purple stripes. The chocolate frosted cake donut with M&M’s was a unique, fun take instead of sprinkles.
This time the star was a jelly donut filled with a generous serving of blueberry jelly. A very light dusting of powdered sugar tempered the sweetness. It was a real treat.
“The Donut King” documentary will show at Bend Film’s drive-in venue in the parking lot at the corner of SW Columbia Street and SW Shevlin Hixon Drive. Tickets are available at BendFilm.org. Maybe you can pick up some donuts to eat while you watch.