Tom and Pao Te, who met on a blind date in Los Angeles in 1987 and were married the same year, run Kristy Donuts and Bagel shop on Border Avenue in Corona. They both escaped the killing fields of Cambodia in the 1970s. (Jerry Soifer / Special to The Press-Enterprise)
Friday, April 3, 2009
By JERRY SOIFER
Special to The Press-Enterprise (California, USA)
CORONA - Tom Te gets up at 2:30 a.m. every day of the year. He has doughnuts and bagels to bake and a hungry population to feed, even on Christmas Day.
He said his customers ask him to work the holiday so they have a place to go.
His wife, Pao, sleeps a little longer before joining her husband in the Kristy Donuts and Bagel shop they own in the Stater Bros. shopping plaza on Border Avenue in west Corona.
Tom, 51, and Pao, 53, have two sons, Brian, 20, and Dennis, 16, to feed and put through college. Then they can start to relax. Even if they didn't have children, it wouldn't be hard to motivate them. They are refugees from the reign of terror of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia of the 1970s.
"You have to put in lots of hours to keep the business successful," Pao said. "It's wonderful. I came to the United States empty handed. Now, we have a house, a car, a business. This is the best country in the world."
According to some, the Tes have the best doughnut shop in western Riverside County. Rafael Camacho, 79, frequently makes the 12-mile drive from his Riverside home to eat a Kristy sugar donut and a cup of coffee.
"It's worth it," said Camacho. "The people are nice."
The Tes have built friendships that have lasted since they arrived in Corona in the mid-1980s. One customer is Glen Allen, a Corona resident who is bonded with the Tes by more than doughnuts and coffee.
"I've watched his (Te's) kids grow up," said Allen. "He's watched my kids grow up. When we leave (with the Allens' daughters) we're here at 6 a.m. They have the best doughnuts in town. This is probably the hardest working guy I know."
Corona resident Neil Baumgardner has been a customer for two decades.
"They are part of the neighborhood," Baumgardner said. "They have great doughnuts. They are great people."
The Tes met on a blind date in Los Angeles in 1987 and were married the same year after escaping separately from the killing fields of Cambodia.
Tom took a tortuous path to freedom, escaping from Cambodia on his seventh try. The first six times, Thailand officials shipped him back. He made it safely when he found a Red Cross camp. Pao successfully made it out on her second escape effort.
The Khmer Rouge made Tom work in the fields and on the construction of a dam for three years. There were no machines. It was all hand labor like the construction of the pyramids in Egypt.
"They treated you like an animal," Tom said. "I was beaten a couple of times if they don't like the way you do things for them."
On one escape attempt, he hid with some 30 members of his family in a cave. They were caught and sent back. Another time, they had to walk through a mine field on the way back to Cambodia. Some were killed.
After escaping, Tom lived in a refugee camp for two years before being shipped to Indonesia where he met with American embassy personnel. He was granted entry to the United States. He flew to Atlanta.
Told of California, he rode a bus three days and three nights to Orange County. There, he enrolled in Santa Ana College and started work in a chain of doughnut shops. He was sent to the Corona shop to work.
Eventually, the chain owner offered Tom a chance to buy the franchise. He and Pao put all their resources together to buy the place that is now a home in western Corona to so many.
Reach Jerry Soifer at email@example.com
Tom and Pao Te
Ages: 51 and 53
Occupation: Donut shop owners