The heartwarming reason this donut shop sells out every single day

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee

As part of Stylist’s Kindfulness Project, we are encouraging our readers to be more compassionate – both to themselves and others. Here, we share the story of a truly incredible gesture for the owner of a donut shop in his hour of need. 

Pacific Coast Highway is like every road in Los Angeles: wide, meandering, permanently exposed to that California heat, and its route slices the heel of the city – all the way from Torrance through Long Beach and Huntington right down to Newport – in two.

Somewhere in the middle of that highway in Seal Beach, a small neighbourhood in the westernmost corner of Orange County, is Donut City. For almost 30 years since owner John Chhan and his wife Stella arrived as refugees from Cambodia in the seventies and bought the store, the donut shop has been a fixture on that long, sprawling highway.

There are no cronuts or muffin-nuts or Frankenstein-esque hybrid foodstuffs at Donut City. What John and Stella produce is simple, unfussy fare – sticky glazed rings; donuts iced pink and covered in sprinkles; hot buns piped with jam or dusted with cinnamon – for low prices. A glazed donut from Donut City costs just USD$1.05, or about 80p, and you can buy one seven days a week, all year round.

John and Stella usually arrive at the store at two in the morning to make and bake every donut by hand. By 4:30AM the doors open to the public. Every day, the donuts sell out by about three in the afternoon. But for the past few weeks the shop has been packed with customers, and John finds himself with a sold-out store by about noon. One weekend, he was able to leave at ten. 

The donuts from Donut City are the stuff of legend 

This sudden rise in popularity of John’s cakes at Donut City is thanks to a truly heartwarming act of generosity on behalf of his customers. In September, John’s wife Stella, 63, suffered an aneurysm and has been hospitalised ever since, making steady but slow progress in her recovery. 

But because John and Stella’s livelihood is so tied to the donut store, he is only able to visit his wife and sit at her bedside once the store is completely sold out.

That’s where Donut City’s compassionate customers come into the equation. Dawn Caviola was one such customer, who posted on the community social media site Nextdoor encouraging all the customers who walked through Donut City’s doors to treat themselves to at least a dozen donuts every morning to help John sell through his store’s supply and spend more time with his wife.

Caviola, who has visited Donut City twice a month with her daughter for the last 13 years, told NBC News that it was the least she could do. “They are just such hardworking people,” she said. “People can just do a simple thing for their neighbours… There are people who don’t eat sugar who are buying donuts… and giving them out to strangers.” 

As more and more customers from the Seal Beach community began to freqent the store, buying big in order to help John spend more time with his wife, some suggested they start a GoFundMe fundraising campaign for the baker. But John turned them down, saying that the only thing he needs is for the store to sell-out so that he can have more time with his wife.

So that’s what people clustered around Pacific Coast Highway are doing. On Saturday, usually one of John’s busiest days of business, every last donut – and every last muffin and croissant and éclair and cinnamon scroll – sold to hungry, helpful people by half past eight in the morning.

“We sold everything already,” John told NBC News. “I feel very warm and very happy. Thank you to everyone.” 

Will you be taking part in Stylist’s Kindfulness Project? If so, make sure to share your stories on Twitter and Instagram with @stylistmagazine using the hashtag #stylistkindfulnessproject.

We can’t wait to see all your posts! 

Images: Unsplash


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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer, podcaster and recent Australian transplant in London. You can find her on the internet talking about pop culture, food and travel.

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