Pink Doughnut Boxes

Pink doughnut boxes exist because of Cambodian immigrants.

In movies and TV shows doughnut boxes are frequently pink. This is in part because many of the doughnut boxes in the Los Angeles area are pink. These pink boxes are a subtle hint that, if you spot them in a story set in New York City or somewhere, it was actually shot in LA. The reason these doughnut boxes are pink is because of Cambodian immigrant Ted Ngoy and his doughnut shop empire. 

In 1975 Ngoy and his family fled the Khmer Rouge on the last flight out of Phenom Penh and emigrated to America. He started life over as a janitor in a Lutheran Church but eventually noticed how popular the doughnut shop was near his other job as a gas station attendant. Ngoy enrolled in Winchell’s training program learning the ins & outs of running a doughnut shop.

Taking what he learned Ngoy started his own doughnut shop, Christy’s Donuts, in the La Habra area in 1977. Eventually this sole shop begat others and Ted & his wife owned over 50 locations in southern California. Along the way he would sponsor other Cambodian immigrants, setting them up for business in his doughnut shops. But it was during the scrappy early days that he came upon the idea for pink boxes.

the character of Marsellus Wallace crossing the street in Pulp Fiction carrying a box of doughnuts
The Pulp Fiction character of Marsellus Wallace carries a pink box of doughnuts across the street just before his day gets much much worse.

Pretty in Pink

Supposedly Ngoy wanted red boxes as red is the color of luck for Chinese-Cambodians. White on the other hand is the color of mourning & death. The closest his box vendor Westco had were leftover pink boxes which sold for a few cents cheaper than white boxes. For the price and the symbolism(ish) pink became the color of boxes for Ngoy’s shops.

Soon Ngoy’s competitors were using pink boxes as well. In 2003 these boxes inspired Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson for the box design of his new company Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon who have some of the most famous pink doughnut boxes around.

Today you still see pink doughnut boxes around LA. They’re so connected to southeast Asian immigrants that they became a canvas for Cambodian American artists in 2022. As of 2020 it’s estimated around 80% of the independent doughnut shops in California are owned by Cambodian-Americans, many of whom credit “Uncle Ted” for getting them started.

Added info: similar to how Ted Ngoy’s influence helped Cambodian immigrants dominate the LA doughnut scene, Tippi Hedren is credited with helping Vietnamese immigrants dominate the nail salon industry.

Also, the highs & lows of Ted Ngoy’s life story are enough to fill multiple lifetimes. You can learn more about him in the 2020 documentary The Donut King.

The wild ride of the highs & lows of Ted Ngoy’s life as The Donut King.

Sunday Morning reports on the Cambodian history of California doughnut shops.