‘The U.S. is like heaven’: Yummy’s Donut Palace owners miss homeland in Cambodia but thrilled to be in Quincy

Yummy's Donut Palace owners

Da Sorm, left, and Dany Heng stand in front of a variety of donuts at Yummy's Donut Palace, 312 N. 30th, in Quincy. | Ron Kinscherf

QUINCY — “The American Dream” is a quintessential phrase that speaks to the essence of coming to the United States. For many, it explains their journey from impoverishment to financial security.

The meaning for Da Sorm and Dany Heng, co-owners of Yummy Donut Palace at 312 N. 30th, and many of their employees is simple: Freedom. They survived one of the most brutal dictatorships the world has known and now are comfortably settled in Quincy.

After United States troops left Vietnam after the Vietnam War, many still living in the Asian country — bordered to the east by the South China Sea — suffered under communist rule, including the neighboring country of Cambodia. The radical group Khmer Rouge took control after a siege on the capital of Phnom Penh. Under Prime Minister Pol Pot, a brutal dictatorship commenced in 1975. An estimated 1.5 million Cambodians (approximately 25 percent of the population) were killed during a four-year period. This genocide was brought to worldwide attention in a 1984 Oscar-nominated film, “The Killing Fields.”

Thousands fled Cambodia, including Sorm.

“I was born and raised in that time,” Sorm said. “So when (Khmer Rouge) came to Cambodia, I tried to escape. Because no food, no work.” 

He spent seven years in Thailand before immigrating to the state of Washington in the mid 1980s. 

Sorm met — and eventually married — Heng in 2002 on a trip home. The marriage was arranged by Heng’s uncle, who knew Sorm through family connections. Sorm says 99 percent of Cambodian marriages today are still arranged by family.

Heng moved to the US in 2004.

Sorm’s life changed again in 2012 while helping his brother-in-law with his donut store in Oklahoma. 

“He is taking a vacation. I came to train with him for five days, and then he took off,” Sorm said. “Then I took over until he came back. I go back to Washington and I told Dany, ‘Oh I like it. Let’s try to move to Missouri.’”

Heng’s sister ran a donut shop in Mexico, Mo. The couple eventually made their way to work at the Yummy’s Donut Palace in Hannibal, Mo. They started their own shop in Quincy in May 2021.

Yummy’s offers the classics, like glazed donuts, and specialty options, like a bacon maple long john. Also offered is a complete line of breakfast items like burritos, croissants and biscuits, as well as a variety of energy drinks, juices, coffees and soda.

Heng says the connection with Cambodia and donuts started in southern California.

Ted Ngoy was one of the many people facing the same oppressive Khmer Rouge regime who fled to southern California. After working a few odd jobs, Ngoy was employed at a donut store chain in Newport Beach, Calif., through an Affirmative Action program to increase minority hiring. 

Ngoy bought his first store in 1977, and by the mid-1980s, he owned more than 50 stores and was known as the “Donut King.” A CBS News report in 2022 said roughly 80 percent of all donut shops in southern California are owned by Cambodian refugees. 

Ngoy’s influence traveled throughout the Cambodian immigrant community, resulting in Cambodian-owned donut shops throughout the US. The Yummy’s Donut Palaces have their roots in Texas. 

Donut shops were a good fit for the immigrants. The entry costs are lower than for other startups. 

“And not too many people are in competition with us,” Sorm explained. “It’s hard work. You have to wake up at different hours and sleep different hours than most people want to. Not a lot of people want to work at midnight and sleep during the daytime.”

The couple sends money to their families in Cambodia. Heng said she has been trying for 13 years to get her brother to the U.S. 

Sorm and Heng are naturalized U.S. citizens now. They reside in Quincy, and their two children go to school in Hannibal. They miss the food of their homeland, and as Buddhists, it can be difficult to practice their faith.

But they couldn’t be happier.

“In this country, you work …  you get paid. This government will help you,” Sorm said. “They helped us learn how to live and speak … even riding the city bus every day to go to work.

“The U.S. is like heaven.”

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