Ted Ngoy was a Chinese-Cambodian born in Cambodian village near the Thailand border. In 1967, Ngoy was sent by his mother to study in the capital, Phnom Penh, where he fell in love with Suganthini Khoeun, the daughter of a high-ranking government official. Despite her sheltered life and being forbidden from having friends or leaving the house other than for school, Ngoy fell in love. Ngoy lived in a small attic apartment a couple blocks away from the Khoeun mansion and would play flute music at night to woo Suganthini. The two eventually began a secret correspondence via letters delivered by the Khoeun family maid. One night, Ngoy devised a plan to sneak into the heavily guarded mansion that housed Suganthini, allowing the couple to meet for the first time. Ngoy spent a total of 45 days in the mansion before being discovered by Suganthini's parents and subsequently kicked out. Khoeun's parents denied Ngoy's suitability as a mate for their daughter due to his lower social class, and instructed Ngoy to break off the relationship with Suganthini at a relative's home. Suganthini's parents and cousins hid behind curtains in the home to ensure Ngoy would break off the relationship. Shortly after reiterating what he was forced to say, he admitted that what was said was a lie and stabbed himself in the stomach. The Khoeuns immediately sent for an ambulance for Ngoy and had Suganthini locked in her room for days following the event. Distraught at the turn of events, Suganthini overdosed on sleeping pills and fell into a coma, causing her parents to relent to the union shortly after the couple recovered. The couple were wed shortly after and had three children.
Military Career and Immigrations to the United States
Ngoy worked at various jobs, including as a travel agent and tour guide, before joining the military in 1970. Through the maneuvering of his brother-in-law, chief of police and briefly future president of Cambodia, Sak Sutsakhan, Ngoy was promoted to the rank of major and appointed military attache at Cambodia's embassy in Thailand. In 1975, Ngoy fled the Khmer Rouge with his wife and three children to Camp Pendleton.
Ngoy secured work as a janitor with Peace Lutheran Church in Tustin, California. While working a second job at a gas station, Ngoy took notice of a busy local doughnut shop and inquired of its operators about learning the business. He subsequently received training through an affirmative action program to increase minority hiring within the Winchell's chain of doughnut shops, and managed a store in Newport Beach where he employed his wife and nephew. By 1977 he was able to purchase his first doughnut shop, Christy's Doughnuts, in La Habra. Despite never really being a huge success under the previous owners, Christy's became a popular under the ownership of the Ngoys. The Ngoys decided to keep uniformity amongst their shops, naming subsequent acquisitions Christy's.
Ngoy bought additional doughnut shops in Orange County. He became tired running doughnut shops on his own and decided to train and lease shops to his relatives and employ Cambodian refugees. He saw an opportunity to expand his business and help the large number of poor, unassimilated Cambodians who had fled the Khmer Rouge to the United States. By 1987, Ngoy owned 32 Christy's Doughnuts locations, largely accomplished by living out of a motorhome allowing him and his family to travel up and down the state of California establishing new locations.
Ngoy's fortunes improved dramatically, such that by the mid-1980s Ngoy had amassed millions of dollars through his expanding doughnut shop empire, reported as 50 locations throughout California. In 1985, Ngoy and his wife became American citizens assuming the American names of Ted and Christy, respectively, and were enjoying a lavish lifestyle including a million dollar home at Lake Mission Viejo, a vacation home in Big Bear, expensive cars, and vacations to Europe. Ngoy had become an example to other Cambodian immigrants, who began to follow his business model for their own entrepreneurial endeavors. Ngoy also involved himself in American politics, joining the Republican Party and hosting fundraisers for George H.W. Bush and encouraged fellow Cambodian immigrants to support the GOP.
Despite the wealth he had amassed and his importance within his community, Ngoy felt dissatisfied, remarking that he had "No political life, no religious life, just work, work." In 1977, the Ngoys took a trip to Las Vegas where Ted saw Elvis Presley at his last performance before his death. It was here that Ngoy had his first taste of gambling while placing bets at the Blackjack tables. Ngoy would make a habit of returning monthly to watch performers such as Tom Jones, Diana Ross and Wayne Newton and indulging in the incentives pit bosses of major casinos offered all the while spending even larger sums at the card tables. This caused tension in the Ngoy household, being the center of many arguments between Ngoy and his wife. Ngoy would often visit Las Vegas for a period of a week, unbeknownst to his wife. He would forge her signature on checks and even borrow money from relatives who leased stores from him. When he was unable to pay back his debt, he would sign over his store to them. Once a paragon in the community, refugees now avoided him for fear of being asked for a loan. Ngoy attempted Gambler's Anonymous, but denies its help with his situation stating that when he went to meetings "I cry, everybody cry. After cry, go back gambling." Ngoy's gambling had progressed from the card tables to placing bets on sports games with Cambodian bookies.
After a particularly devastating gambling loss in 1990, Ngoy flew to Washington, D.C. and joined a Buddhist monastery where he spent a month meditating. Following his time in the nation's capital, Ngoy spent time in a monastery in the Thai countryside where he spent his morning begging for alms. Upon his return to Orange County, Ngoy began gambling harder than ever stating "Monks cannot help me, Buddha cannot help me."
After the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in 1993, Ngoy returned to Cambodia for the country's first elections. He formed the Free Development Republican Party ahead of the country’s UN-backed elections believing that he could show others the path to wealth and hoping that in being a politician his gambling addiction would be stymied. He did not fare well in either the 1993 or 1998 parliamentary elections, but his friend, Prime Minister Hun Sen, made him an advisor on commerce and agriculture.
When his wife returned to California for the birthday of a grandchild in 1999, Ngoy began an affair with a young woman, serving as the final straw between him and his wife, Christy. She divorced him soon after and has not since returned to Cambodia. Ngoy's political career ended in 2002 after breaking with two powerful allies, the commerce minister and the head of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce. He dissolved his party and accused the government of corruption. The next day, he flew back to Los Angeles leaving behind his new wife and their two children. By 2005, after a failed political career in Cambodia, Ngoy was penniless and living on the porch of a fellow Parkcrest Christian Church parishioner's mobile home.
In 2013, he was living in Phnom Penh working in the real estate business.
- "From Sweet Success to Bitter Tears". Los Angeles Times. 2005-01-19.
- "A Taste Of Cambodia". Los Angeles Times. 1988-12-19.
- "Voices From The First Generation". Los Angeles Times. 1989-11-05.
- Sucheng Chan (2004). Survivors: Cambodian Refugees in the United States. University of Illinois Press. p. 147. ISBN 0-252-07179-4.
- "Asians Looking to Broaden Horizons". Los Angeles Times. 1987-02-02.
- "The story of the man they called the doughnut king". The Phnom Penh Post. 2013-10-11.