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Inspiring Conversations with Mayly Tao of DK’s Donuts & Bakery

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mayly Tao.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
My parents are Cambodian refugees who survived the terrible Khmer Rouge, they immigrated here, penniless, in search of the American Dream and freedom. One by one, more family members came over. My great uncle, Ted Ngoy, known as the Donut King, had sponsored hundreds of refugees and set up donut shops for them to make it here in America.

My parents started DK’s Donuts & Bakery in Santa Monica, CA in 1981. I grew up helping my parents and hanging out at the store because my parents worked all the time to give my brother and I everything that we needed- a roof over our heads, food on the table, and most importantly, a good education. I was 6 years older when I started working. I was sent to one of the best private Catholic high school – St. Monica – and then studied Communications at UC San Diego. During my college career, I interned for a news station at the CW network and also interned for UCSD for their Communications and Marketing department. I did not find reporting fulfilling at all. I came back to Los Angeles, and my mom had asked me to come help at the shop. I started to rebrand the store, implementing my vision of DK’s Donuts being a foodie heaven. I expanded the menu to over 120 different types of specialty, traditional, and hybrid donuts such as the #ONUT and #WOWNUT.

We appeared in a multitude of publications, and I built an online community of donut lovers on our social media (@dksdonuts). We’ve catered for the Kardashians, worked with porters on HBO shows, celebrated New Girl’s Season Premiere with Fox, provided #DonutFridays for Hulu and Activision, and made lots of amazing friends along the way. I created new donut experiences such as alphabet letter donuts, Texas size donut tiers, mini donuts, and even brought Los Angeles its first #donutbouquet. I worked hard to create a legacy for my parents and to create beautiful unforgettable experiences. This year, I’m focusing on personal content to share my journey, my day-to-day, my Teochew background, and of course, my love for food!

Being Asian American, I was bullied as a kid for looking different, and was confused with my identity as my family is extremely traditional. Today, I am proud to be an Asian American— every time I share my story about my family or about my unique cultural background, I appreciate the way I was brought up because it might not have been easy, but it was meaningful. I share many stories about my grandma who raised me and the strict dragon mom who I now call the best mom in the world.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Looking back, no road is ever smooth. I was sent a cease and desist letter. I’ve had employees quit or not show up. I’ve run out of specific inventory when I needed it the most. I haven’t had the best partners. I didn’t know everything. I’ve had vendors cancel. I’ve made mistakes. Every entrepreneur goes through this on the daily — it’s all about focusing on the wins and learning the lessons necessary. It’s also about understanding some things are out of control- what you are in control of is how you react to the everyday changes.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about DK’s Donuts & Bakery?
I own DK’s Donuts & Bakery in Santa Monica, CA. It’s literal donut heaven. We specialize in donut letters, Texas size donuts, and over 120 different types of donuts. We are known for our ube donut, the #ONUT, our buttermilk bars, and our classic glazed donut. We are well-known for being open 24 hours, 365 days a year. I am responsible for all the branding, social media, events, and communications with DK’s Donuts. It’s a Los Angeles institution. We even have a donut mural behind the shop that attracts many visitors per day. Knowing my audience well, I’ve created a digital presence for DK’s Donuts and also optimized it for delivery, offering it 24/7/365. The donut experience with the unique letter donuts and Texas size donut tiers is definitely enhanced and gives me creativity hat a spin on the endless combinations and occasions donuts can fulfill. DK’s was pretty much the starting point, which I slowly evolved to take on new concepts. Such as, Donut Princess Los Angeles, a donut bouquet company that delivers nationwide a delightful set of donuts arranged in a beautiful bouquet. I started Lunchboxes for Love, which raised money to feed over 4,000 healthcare professionals during the pandemic to boost morale and support those fighting for our loved ones. We packed lunchboxes of gourmet sandwiches, donuts, and coffee and delivered to over 60 different hospitals. I started a podcast called “Short N’ Sweet: A Donut Princess Podcast” where I discuss all things women empowerment, entrepreneurship, mindset, and Asian-American voices. Focusing on personal content this year, I revived my YouTube channel for #VLOGS and #Mukbangs, and a Tiktok dedicated to reviving my language, Teochew. My mom and I built a temple in Cambodia and another mission I would love to accomplish is to reform the education system in Cambodia. I’m proud of myself for taking the initiative and for using my voice for good. I’m also working on a book recounting my mom’s story and my own sequel donut documentary to the Donut King Film, which came out last year and is now purchased by Vice to distribute internationally and currently on the Oscars short list. Wish us luck!

Let’s talk about our city – what do you love? What do you not love?
Los Angeles is a melting pot of beautiful cultures and people- I mainly vibe with the immigrant stories of other families who came here in search of a new life. I love that I can find any type of dish in LA and it will be done well. I love that you can go to the beach, city, and mountains in less than 2 hours. Santa Monica is a breathtaking city, and while it’s usually filled with tourists, the locals are some of the most nicest people you’ll ever meet. I love biking around the beach and people watching. Los Angeles is one of the best cities in the entire world. What I like least about my city is the amount of homelessness I see. I wish there was something the city could do to help regarding homelessness. Even with some of the craziest encounters, my mom and I do our part by taking turns dropping off donuts to the homeless and non profit organizations daily to help feed them. And of course, I hate LA traffic, but you learn to leave at the right times.

Pricing:

  • Custom Donut Letters $3/letter
  • Texas Size Giant Donut Cakes starting at $25
  • Traditional Donuts start at $1.25
  • Dozens range from $12.99-$30
  • Donut Bouquets starting at $35

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