You’d think a memoir based on donuts would be a sweet story, full of sugar and contentment. This mother-and-daughter story ultimately is the icing on top, but it starts during the horrors of the Khmer Rouge’s brutal reign in Cambodia following the 1975 disengagement of the United States in Southeast Asia. Fleeing genocide and labor enslavement during the barbaric restructuring of the country, Chuong Lee arrived in Southern California homeless and penniless, then married into the family of another Cambodian refugee, Ted Ngoy, who opened hundreds of donut shops in the Los Angeles area for other refugees. Mayly’s story celebrates her mother’s journey and her own unique upbringing as a donut “princess” who used modern social media to make the family business one of the most successful donut shops in the world. Every bit as harrowing as any thriller, every bit as American as a glazed donut, Mayly turned her life into a book that shows that while all American stories start with the same ingredients, her family’s approach is as different as yours was.
What’s the theme behind your story?
The theme behind my story is honor. Through An American Dream, with Sprinkles: The Legacy Story of the Donut Queen and Donut Princess, I honor my mother and her journey that she faced when she came to the United States from Cambodia. The theme of honor persists throughout the book—in my mother’s relationship with her parents, in her relationship with her mother-in-law, and the way that she ran her business so fiercely for forty years. The theme of honor continues with me as I carry on the family business and fight to create our family’s donut shop to be globally recognized.
What’s the logline?
How did one immigrant survive her war-torn country and enslavement camps to run one of the most popular donut shops in the world?
What were you thinking about or what was happening when the idea of this book occurred to you?
I’ve had this idea ever since I was a little girl. My mom told me many of her stories of her trauma during the war and what she went through. I remember crying and feeling an instant sense of compassion when she told me. As I grew older and was encouraged to stray away from writing, the idea to tell her story was placed on the back burner. It was only after we sold our donut shop that I finally had time to sit down and go through stories about the years of trauma to create this story.
How did the original idea change as you went along?
The original idea changed as I went along because the premise of the story was extremely sad. I decided to add my version of the story to assist with the resolution of my mother’s idea of the American Dream as it lives through me.
How did you conceive of your characters for this story and how did they change?
Since this is a memoir, the characters stayed the same, but the references to them were more defined by recognizing them in Teochew (a Chinese dialect) and/or Khmer (the Cambodian language). This changed as I thought about my audience and I considered what would describe them the best.
Are you pleased with the results, or do you wish you had done anything differently in the story? Why or why not?
I am pleased with the results, and I am hoping people will learn and get a firsthand account of what it was like to live through war and to come to America in search of the American Dream.
Who would play your leads in the movie if (when!) you make a deal?
I would hope that Gemma Chan would play my character and Michelle Yeoh would play my mother. Both actresses are beautiful, fierce, and understand the role of mother/daughter in an Asian American family.
What else do you want readers to know?
I want readers to know how proud I am to be able to tell my mom’s story and how I hope it will inspire others to document their family’s origin stories and celebrate them. I hope it will bring more compassion to this world, regardless of global borders.
Mayly Tao is LA’s self-proclaimed Donut Princess and the owner of Donut Princess Los Angeles, a donut bouquet delivery concept. She is the host of her podcast Short N’ Sweet: A Donut Princess Podcast where she explores mindset, women’s empowerment, and small business tips. You can find her ”securing the box” at @donutprincessla. She is featured in the Donut King documentary as seen on Hulu and on domestic flights across the US. She also has her own YouTube channel, where she visits Cambodian-owned donut shops and highlights their stories. She hopes to elevate Asian-American voices and representation and vows to create a legacy for the next generation of Asian-Americans.
Mayly Tao is a Khmer, Thai, and Teochew Chinese Asian-American born to Khmer refugee parents who arrived in America to start a new life. Her uncle, Ted Ngoy, sponsored hundreds of Cambodians, enabling them to come to America, then helped them manage and own their own donut shops. She recently sold her family’s bakery after her mom decided to retire after celebrating forty years in business at DK’s Donuts & Bakery in Santa Monica, CA.
Her focus on helping people and making an impact led her to creating new businesses as a serial entrepreneur. She successfully launched her new luxury-car rental business, Donut Exotics, in summer 2021. Her plans for 2022 include becoming a life agent to help families find life insurance; a mobile home-care business; and a liquid IV business, and to publish her mom’s book on her experience after the genocide. Stay tuned with her on her instagram @maylytao.