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Originally published Monday, May 11, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Jerry Large

King Donut keeps marching forward regardless of what swirls around it

King Donuts is all about perseverance and progress. It's not the kind of place that would be rattled by a double shooting just outside its front door.

Seattle Times staff columnist

King Donuts is all about perseverance and progress.

It's not the kind of place that would be rattled by a double shooting just outside its front door.

That shooting last week reminded me I hadn't been there in awhile, so I dropped by for lunch and got caught up with the owners.

When I wrote about the Rainier Beach business years ago, it was run by Chea Pol and her husband, Heng Hay, Cambodian refugees who'd survived the horrors of the Pol Pot dictatorship.

The first time I spoke with them, their tiny doughnut shop was about to be torn down to make room for a parking lot.

The next time, they'd reopened a few yards away and had added teriyaki and a laundry, then rebuilt after a fire.

No such thing as easy times.

Hay developed gout, and his meds landed him in the hospital with ulcers. In March of last year, the two older of the couple's three children took over the business.

Sokha Hay, 29, is a UW grad who worked in finance for a software company. He said he didn't make the change lightly.

"My parents worked 365 days a year and never took a day off."

He and his sister, Channa Hay, who had been working as an accountant, split the day. He starts at 5:30 a.m., she comes in later and stays past the 7:30 p.m. closing time. They each get one day a week off when the other works all day.

Their uncle makes doughnuts, and there are two other employees cooking.

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The Hays are trying to modernize the business. "We have the education," Sokha said. "We grew up in this country."

They put in new equipment, painted — "It was insane-asylum white," Channa said — added lottery and cash machines, started doing a little marketing (the food is really good), and are working on a Web page.

Sokha said he'd like to make it more like a coffee shop with Wi-Fi and everything, but as it stands, "We don't move that many lattes or espressos."

Their customer base tends toward low-income. Most are black or Asian American.

"I'd like to save money and open [a branch] in Ballard, Wallingford or Queen Anne," he said.

My visit with Sokha was low key, but Channa came in later like a storm of personality, joking with customers, smiling and laughing.

Channa was the one working last Tuesday when the shooting happened.

She said kids like to come and just hang out inside or in the parking lot, but there's less of that than when her mom ran the place because she doesn't tolerate it.

"I tell them to move their meeting," Channa said.

And she doesn't allow acting out in the store. "They say something to me and it's like 'Right back at you' and they're like, 'Oh, OK,' and they sit down like normal people."

Channa doesn't hesitate to address loiterers in language that can't be quoted here but tends to be effective.

Other people might be scared of a group of teens, but she said they're "just kids that are misinformed and misdirected. They do things to get attention.

"If you allow them to scare you, what else will you allow to scare you away from what you want to do or be."

While we talked I could see through the window behind her the apartment building where 2-year-old Tré Vaugn and a 20-year-old man were shot to death almost eight years ago.

The evening of last week's shooting, six kids finished their teriyaki and walked outside. Channa cleaned their table and saw they were standing in front of the door, so she went to tell them to move on.

Just as she touched the door, she said she heard six shots.

One ran back in and was on the floor saying, " 'I got shot.' " she said. Another one fell outside and was brought back in. She called 911.

It was an hour from closing time. A regular customer kept eating teriyaki in the back. The injured kids waited calmly for an ambulance.

"It was not that dramatic actually, except the fact these kids were shot. They weren't moaning," just sitting, she said.

Channa doesn't ruffle easily.

The circumstances their parents dealt with remind both Hays to keep moving forward.

And so, King Donuts keeps on going.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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