by Marcus Harrison Green
There were tears, laughter ricocheting from the walls, sing-alongs to 70’s funk music, a kaleidoscope of memories, and an endless supply of hugs Saturday afternoon as King Donuts said farewell to the Rainier Beach neighborhood it has served the past 28 years.
One of Rainier Beach’s most beloved businesses, the composite donut shop, teriyaki restaurant, and laundromat stirred collective sorrow in locals last June when owners Heng Hay and Chea Pol announced they would be closing down for good in late December.
On Saturday the Hay family threw a raucous goodbye party for hundreds of the area’s residents they’ve served for nearly 30 years, replete with a soul band, buffet, and plenty of jaunts down memory lane – though surprisingly no donuts were on hand – as they had sold out earlier in the day.
It was a snapshot of all the Hay’s have touched through the years: Rainier Beach High School students who regularly scraped up 50 cents to buy a donut hole, local entrepreneurs who had been inspired to keep their shops in the community by the Hays, and residents of a multitude of ethnicities and orientations raised on the Hay’s donuts.
“This is such a beautiful thing,” Chea Pol said of the number of people, who turned out, as dozens of customers lined up behind her for the free teriyaki chicken and shrimp fried rice offered at the buffet table.
So many came to pay respects to the Hays that they ended up running out of food, and had to order pizza.
“This is our thanks to the community. Without them we wouldn’t have been here for as long as we were,” added Channa Hay, the eldest Hay daughter. Now in her 30’s, she has worked at her family’s business since the age of 12.
“My heart has so much sadness. I’ve been coming here for forever, and watched [Channa] grow up,” said Barbara Armstrong, a Rainier Beach resident who was one of King Donut’s first customers, while the band ironically sang “Ain’t nobody crying” in the background.
The hardship of saying goodbye was shared by almost everyone walking through the door on the day.
“I’ve been coming here since I was little. I just can’t believe it’s closing,” said Candace Bekale, a Rainier Valley resident, as a man in line for food shouted out “I can’t be going to Krispy Kreme” to laughter.
“I’ve eaten my last donut,” joked Rick Bournes, a decade-long friend of the Hays who has helped prep donuts behind the counter over the years. “This place has been a solid foundation of South Seattle.”
The impact of King Donuts’ final days was also shared by recent discoverers of it.
“I’ve had some real difficult times adjusting to Seattle and this place was always a symbol of how strong and diverse this community is. You walk in here and African Americans are playing music, while people are eating Asian food,” said Albert Wang, who moved to the Rainier Valley from Oakland 2 years ago.
Wang said he was sold on the South Seattle community when it rallied to help pay the medical bills of Heng Hay and Chea Pol after the two were assaulted in January of 2015 leaving their shop.
But King Donuts’ status, not only as hallmark of South Seattle, but as a gathering place for the blue collar was what resonated with others.
“You could come in here and spend a dollar, or nothing at all and still be welcomed with your neighbors,” said Shannon Waits, a resident of South Seattle for 8 years. “Working class places continue to disappear in this city.”
It’s still uncertain what will replace King Donuts, as the building that housed it for almost 30 years remains up for lease, though the building’s owner expressed a preference for moving in another restaurant.
“I just hope a Starbucks doesn’t move in here,” a patron could be overhead groaning when speculation turned to what would take King Donuts’ place.
As for the Hays, Heng and Chea will continue to live in their Skyway neighborhood residence busying themselves with volunteering and other community activities. Their daughter Channa will be pursuing her Masters Degree in Health Administration, while their youngest daughter Davie continues work at Lab Connect.
While the Hays won’t miss their 15 hour/ 7 day a week routine, they will miss the South Seattle community their business was a fixture in for so long.
“It’s not really goodbye. It’s more like see you around,” said Channa, greeting patrons for one of the final times as they came in to join others singing in the restaurant’s dining area.
No one seemed in any hurry to leave.
King Donuts official last day is Tuesday, December 20th