I don’t mind driving to deliver that special moment, a memory of happier times.”

Small business owner Mayly Tao ’12 keeps her small business afloat, while also supporting L.A. area healthcare workers.

In the beginning, we lost almost all our accounts.

That’s how COVID-19 hit my small business, DK Donuts & Bakery.

DK’s Donuts is open 24 hours. We have everything from donuts and sandwiches to coffee and fruit. It’s a one-stop shop where people can go and pick up some donuts for a meeting, birthday party or gathering, and we have several accounts with local offices, churches and hospitals. So when Los Angeles began taking COVID-19 more seriously in March, I started getting calls.

A hospital that’s been ordering from us for 30 years said, “Hey, is there any way that you could individually wrap the items we get from you? People are getting really nervous.” Of course, that was no problem. The next day, they called back and canceled their account. Over the next week, nearly all of our accounts canceled. Why? Because people were not going into the office anymore, or they were completely closed.

I started to see how the world was starting to change. I also had to change my business, to pivot, and really connect to the why.

Why should I care? Because DK Donuts & Bakery keeps my mom and my dad alive. My brother and I grew up in their shop and witnessed their dedication. DK Donuts & Bakery keeps the families that we employ alive, and it keeps the community happy. It’s our livelihood. I knew I had to do something quick.

At the start of COVID-19, I was traveling internationally, so I had seen how other countries were dealing with it and how serious people were taking it. I didn’t see the U.S. taking those same precautions when I returned to Los Angeles. I soon realized that my business needed to change to meet today’s needs.

I created DK’s Secret Sandwich Shop through Uber Eats. Within three days, I curated, photographed and launched our virtual shop with secret menu items. I thought of my audience: people working remotely from home. We make really fun concoctions that are available to order 24 hours a day. So far, it’s been a huge success.

Then I released my podcast called Short N’ Sweet: A Donut Princess Podcast by DK’s Donuts. I had already recorded a year’s worth of episodes, but never had the time to release it. But now, I thought this is a great way for me to share my feelings about what’s happening and what I am doing to combat the crisis. It’s opened up more connections with the community and let people hear from me, a small business owner getting creative and giving back.

Next, I turned DK Donuts & Bakery into a local grocery store where the community can buy eggs, bread, butter and vegetables, especially for the older population living in Santa Monica. I also deliver the groceries to the community living in West Los Angeles. I imagined what it would be like if my grandma was living in this area. I would want someone to do this for her, and I couldn’t wait for anyone else to step up but me.

Next, I launched Lunchboxes for Love, individual lunches with a gourmet sandwich, a gourmet donut and coffee for our healthcare’s frontline workers. In this uncertain time, donuts are a quick sugary boost of morale and a moment of happiness. This project relies on donations from the community, and within a week of launching the program, I had raised enough for more than 500 meals! I coordinated the delivery with 10 hospitals in the Los Angeles area. Lunchboxes for Love gives people a way to contribute while sheltering in place. These workers risk their lives every day, and I wanted to do something for them, to show that their community really cares for them.

These are unprecedented times, and although we are apart, we can still be close. I think about what it would be like to be a healthcare worker, or someone who has to work from home while homeschooling their kids, or someone who lives alone, away from their family. I try to make every delivery, every treat special. Whether it’s delivering donuts for a mother’s 50th birthday because her daughter can’t see her, or to a nurse who hasn’t slept in 48 hours. There are so many moments where I think about what I can do to make someone smile.

There’s something so nostalgic when you think of your favorite donut. Maybe it’s a classic sprinkled cake donut or an old fashioned donut. The moment someone takes a bite of this sugary, fresh, made-with-love item, there’s a pause… and the world kind of stops. I don’t mind driving to deliver that special moment; a memory of happier times. Even if it’s just for that moment.

DK Donuts and Bakery started in 1989 in Santa Monica, Calif., by the parents of Mayly Tao ’12, Lee and Kong, two Khmer refugees who immigrated to the U.S. in search of a better life. Learn more about Lunchboxes for Love at Lunchboxesforlove.com.

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