Refugee owned business supported by community

Donut shop owner standing behind case of donuts- refugee owner business
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Donut City is a refugee owned business that has become a staple in its community. When one of the owners experienced health problems, their customers decided to support them. 

Donut City, owned by husband and wife John and Stella Chhan is not your typical donut shop. The couple has run the shop for almost 30 years. It’s become a staple in their Seal Beach, California, neighborhood. Notably, Donut City is also a refugee owned business.

John and Stella Chhan came to Orange County, California in 1979. They arrived as refugees from Cambodia. From 1975 to 1979, Cambodia was under the rule of Khmer Rouge. During this time at least 1.5 million Cambodians were killed or died. Khmer Rouge was the political party led by Marxist leader Pol Pot. In an effort to bring Cambodia back to the Middle Ages, Pot forced city-dwelling Cambodians to the countryside. As a result, many Cambodians died from starvation, illness and overwork. Others were executed.

Fortunately, the Chhan’s were able to flee Cambodia. A decade later, in 1990 they opened the donut shop. The Chhans and their baker are at the shop by 2 a.m every day.

They open at 4:30 a.m, never taking a day off. Donut City is well-known due to its convenient hours, friendly owners, and delicious donuts.

In mid-October, Stella Chhan had a stroke. Due to the stroke, she was unable to work. Soon it became apparent Mr. Chhan would have to run the shop alone with his wife in the hospital. Regulars began to notice Mrs. Chhan was gone. Dawn Caviola, 58, is one of those regulars. During one of her visits, she found out Mr. Chhan was maintaining the shop alone because Stella Chhan suffered an aneurysm. She was in a rehabilitation center, and Mr. Chhan worked every day until closing, when he could visit her.  

Caviola blogged about it, unsure of what else she could do. The post was popular on community blog space, Nextdoor. Caviola expressed that buying the entire inventory of donuts would allow Mr.Chhan to leave early.

The post went viral all over social media. Donut City is beloved by many in the community, making it easy for people to want to help.

Customers started coming into Donut City to buy donuts as usual. This time, however, customers started buying donuts by the dozen. Before long, Chhan ran out of donuts and closed shop early to visit his wife.

The next days and weeks repeated themselves. Customers came in droves to buy donuts. As a result, Mr. Chhan was able to leave early every day.

Some days he leaves as early as 10 am to visit his wife. Many customers say they’re just happy the community was united for a good cause. As for Mrs. Chhan, she’s still recovering. According to her husband, she can write, talk, and is eating.

Locals even tried to set up a fundraiser for the Chhan’s on GoFundMe. However, Mr. Chhan declined, only wanting to spend more time with his wife at home.

This refugee-owned business and the community’s kindness show a very different side of Seal Beach.

Most know Seal Beach as a great plate to surf, swim, and vacation. Despite this carefree reputation, locals are showing that Seal Beach is also a place of welcome and love.

Read more great stories about refugees and immigrants in the United States

Refugees shaking hands

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About Akudo McGee
Akudo McGee is a recent graduate from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. McGee has a Masters degree in European studies. Her field of focus is forced migration.