King Donuts' Queen Bee Davie Hay on Life Behind the Donut Counter

Davie Hay
After taking over ownership of King Donuts in Rainier Beach for their parents, sisters Davie and Channa Hay have added more flavor to the place, and it's not just the donuts. Fully equipped with sass and lip, the Hay sisters fend off advances from male customers and tackle eccentric characters at the nearly 25-year-old donut shop-teriyaki stand-Laundromat. With an arsenal of crazy stories that only a place like King Donuts could have, Davie Hay looks back fondly at life growing up in a donut shop, and serving the diverse community in Rainier Beach.

SW: How did King Donuts come about and why donuts, teriyaki, and a laundromat?

Hay: My parents emigrated from Cambodia back in '83, worked their butts off for the next four years. They met a fellow Cambodian and he gave them the idea of opening a donut shop. They got together and decided to save money for it. At the very last minute, he backed out of the whole deal. They went ahead and opened the shop. Back then, my mom was pregnant with me. She opened the shop, and it started as just a donut shop.

This is our second location for our donut shop. Our first location, we got evicted because Safeway had bought the property. It was a mini strip mall and we all got kicked out. Luckily, there was a building next door that we moved into. The space was pretty much double what we usually have. The rent obviously went up and donuts wouldn't survive alone. So my mom had some friends that did some teriyaki, and she decided to incorporate that with the donut shop. On the other side, we just said, "Well, we'll throw in a Laundromat over there." You have a space for it and you figure out businesses that would be successful there.

What challenges do you have in running King Donuts?

Every morning, I have Filipino men come in there to play cards and I just BS with them. I get there early in the morning. It's always dark. I feel safe when they're around. Rainier Beach, you know, a lot of whack jobs down there—crack heads, gangsters or wannabe gangsters hanging out.

I know a lot people coming in here are definitely coming from the streets and they don't have a lot of family, so when they come into our shop we make them feel welcome. We call them by their names. Most people wouldn't want them there. I think that's what people enjoy most, even the whack jobs; they come in and I don't kick them out if they're acting decent, and with clothes on. I don't want to see balls.

And when do you see balls?

We've seen a guy washing his clothes naked. There's been two stories where people just decide to take off their clothes and you go approach them they're like, "Well, this is a Laundromat."

When my brother was there, he had to fight off a naked man in the bathroom. My brother was knocking on the door saying, "Hey, you gotta go, you gotta go," and the man comes out saying, "You want to step outside?" My brother was like, "Uhm, you can put some clothes on and then we can step outside."

So is there a pretty steady crowd of interesting characters coming in?

We have a lot of jail birds that come in. We don't judge anyone. Sometimes, my customers go missing for awhile and the famous joke is like when I see them, I go, "Where you been? Jail?" and they're like, "Yeah." We're like, "Okay well, let me fatten you up and give you some donuts!" We got our first fan mail and it was from Kent's Correctional Facility. [The letter] was from Leon. He likes to rap, and he always comes in and raps.

There's a constant flow of men dropping in to woo my sister and me. I had a married guy come in there to try to woo me. I guess he hadn't been home the night before, and his wife walked in and was like, "Where were you?" They both come there all the time. She comes in every morning, and I guess he didn't know that and she caught him red handed!

This one guy approached the counter and he asked me if I had a bag, and I was like, "A bag for what?" He extends his hands [within inches of my face] and it was his shitty drawers, and I turned around and threw up right there! He was like, "What's wrong with you?" He was an elderly gentleman, so I didn't want to be too mean about it. My dad came in and was like, "Why are you vomiting? You'll be wiping my ass when I get old!"

It seems like you enjoy this to some extent.

Honestly, I really do. I think it makes our job unique, having the whack jobs or unique individuals come in, it makes the shop interesting. People that come, I think they know the area and know what it comes with. Customers come into our shop and they see the action and I think they laugh it off. The customers at King Donuts are not judgmental. They're more open-minded. I like it. I don't think it'd be the same if I had a donut shop in Bellevue. A lot of these people come into our shop and they're not there to hurt anyone. They're just....fucked up, in a good way!

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Davie Hay
How did you develop the donut recipe and now that donuts are trendy, have you made changes to the donuts to compete with more mainstream donut shops?

Making donuts requires a certain amount of water and yeast, and I think at that time my father was trying to perfect it. We like to make big donuts, like our apple fritters. When you bite into our glazed donuts, it's not full of air. We like to use the best ingredients. My father made the donuts originally. My current baker was trained by my father.

When donuts started getting trendy was when we decided to paint the building, and upgrade the inside with new floors. Marketing wise, we jumped on Facebook, [and] we got a commercial. The bacon bar has only been around for less than a year. We've mainly tried to find new idea for donuts. I have Oreo cookie donuts, and cream cheese icing. Being creative with your donuts is the key thing to compete with the mainstream donut shops.

Do you ever get tired of donuts?

These donuts are so good, I don't get tired of eating them. It counts as breakfast in the morning, it's a good breakfast for me.

What's your favorite?

I love the apple fritters. I've been around donuts my whole life but when there's apple fritters, I'll walk by the case and my will power just drops and I grab one.

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