This week’s interviewee is Rasmey Chum, co-owner of Don’s Donuts, Pizza & Deli, and an Arcata Chamber member for over 30 years. Read more about Don't Donuts here.
How long have you owned the business?
Well it was a donut shop before Don Kolshinski bought it and I’m guessing Don bought it in the ’60s and he changed whatever the name was to “Don’s Donuts.” Don sold it and bought it back from various people who couldn’t make it work, but we bought in in 1992 and have had it ever since.
What challenges did you face in your earlier years as business owners?
When we bought Don’s all it had going on was donuts and you can’t make a living just selling donuts. We had a family to support. We decided to go 24/7. We added sandwiches so people had a reason to come in for lunch. We added pizza so people had a reason to come in for dinner. The menu change, balancing the hours and the family life and how to grow the business were hard to figure out. I once read that 90 percent of donut shops are owned by Cambodians and you know why? It’s a lot of hard work on top of being graveyard hours. Making donuts, especially by hand like we do, takes a lot of milling, rolling and cutting of dough – it’s a lot of work. My husband still takes the night time and I take the day time.
How is doing business in Arcata?
We know our seasons. We have the tourists and the students. We get a lot of high school regulars. We see the kids grow up and go away and return. Lot of college students call us after they leave and want us to ship them donuts. We deliver to all of the gas stations, many grocery stores, in various towns in the county.
Don's What may people not realize about your business?
We’re much more than donuts. We want a group to be able to come here and get everything they want: ice cream, milkshakes, espresso, pizza, donuts and sandwiches. I curate the ingredients and love to cook for people who love to eat. This place is like a baby to us. Our staff is like our family. We’ve never had any one quit or get fired; we treat them like family. Our staff trains the new people and then I work with the new workers and if they do anything wrong I have the opportunity to correct the staff person, too.
You’ve owned this business for 26 years; what advice would you give to a new business owner?
We’ve been through the Khmer Rouge regime and war. [Her husband and her came as teenagers to the U.S. as refugees.] We’ve been through worse. We’re up morning to dawn and you have to be devoted. You’re not going to make money the first couple years. You have to do it all yourself. But after two or three years you’ll know what the business will be like. We were determined to make this work and we stuck with it. It took a while to build it. Starting a business might be more work than raising kids. If you are a husband and wife you have to learn how to communicate. One has to be fire and one has to be water or you’ll butt heads and divorce.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The hardship we went through in our life gave us the determination to work and decide how we want to live our lifestyle. We are really happy with the accomplishment we have built here - our house, our planning, not learning a word of English when we got here. Our daughter is studying Anthropology at UC Davis and our son is at CSC Cal Maritime in Vallejo marjoring in mechanical engineering. We have come a long way. Eventually, we’ll want to pass it on to someone that wants to continue with what we’ve started.