SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — From Southeast Asia to South Sacramento, a local family has found success with sweets.
With every sunrise comes the unmistakable smell of fried dough from Bakers Donuts on Florin Road.
Sivkun Tun Hem and her team of bakers have flipped fritters and glazed doughnuts for 36 years.
“Seven days a week I put in more hours from 5 in the morning until 9 at night,” Sivkun said.
Before Sivkun served up treats, her path to the sweet American dream wasn’t easy.
Sivkun Tun Hem and her mother escaped Cambodia during an anti-communist genocide in the 1970s.
UC Davis professor of Asian American studies Richard Kim says it was devastating for the nation.
“One-to-3 million estimated perished, so up to half the nation perished,” Kim said.
“We escaped from Cambodia to Thailand and she wanted the children to have a better life,” Sivkun said.
Eventually, she ended up in Sacramento.
For many Cambodian families, donuts were the way to final success in California.
Ted Ngoy, known as the donut king, opened multiple donut shops in Southern California, hiring mostly Cambodian refugees.
Estimates show, at its height in the 1990’s, 80% of Southern California donut shops were owned by Cambodians, that trend continuing in Northern California.
“It just became this sort of economic niche so who knows what the future will bring because in most cases the children are on these,” Sivkun said.
People may ask, why donuts? Douglas Hem, the assistant manager of Bakers Donuts says the answer is simple.
“It’s simple to say and memorize numbers as they are learning and different donuts and sometimes people can just come and say I want that donut I want that donut so it’s an easier way to speaking with customers,” Douglas Hem said.
Now, more than ever, it’s even easier to connect to customers.
“Customers come in with their phones like, ‘Oh, can I get this donut?’” Hem said.
Hem and his sister started the shop’s Instagram page, which now has more than 30,000 followers, featuring all-new and creative desserts.
“I try to specialize in unique donuts that you can’t find anywhere but Bakers Donuts,” Hem said.
Sivkun’s children have both gone to college and have their own careers, all thanks to their mother’s hard work.
Hem wants customers to walk away with more than just a box of donuts, but with an understanding of hard work, the sacrifice and the commitment that they make to support themselves and their families.