HE’S A BOYISH 60, she’s a 57-year-old beauty. Their step is quick, their bodies slim, their arms strong, their division of labor — he’s the king of raised, she’s the queen of cake — is a pas de deux that puts Krispy Kreme machinery to shame.
Three hundred and sixty one days a year, while you lie sleeping, Youkhun Taing and his wife, Sokngim Lim, are awake and on task. Hours before you’ve poured your first coffee, they are marriage in motion at Countryside Donut House in Mountlake Terrace.
For 26 years they’ve made our world a much sweeter place.
Taing rolls the dough; Lim finesses the fryer. He does the heaviest hoisting. She does the frosting and glazing. “You know what happens when you do it every day?” asks Taing, his right hand effortlessly molding a ball of apple-fritter dough at 2 a.m. “It looks easy!”
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Forty dozen doughnuts later, their neon “OPEN” sign is lit. It’s 4:30 a.m.
“It’s amazing, it’s so good!” Taing says, sinking his teeth into a warm yeast-raised twist he’s kneaded, cut and shaped — the first of several treats they both enjoy each day.
Hard work is their religion and God is in the details: the tiny pinpricks Taing makes to let air out of his raised dough, the practiced eye Lim uses to determine when to flip the old-fashioneds — precisely pumped rounds that sizzle in hot fat then burst into fragrant flower petals under her care. “Nobody else can do that,” says the man whose pride in his wife’s prowess goes beyond the bounds of their strip-mall bakeshop. “Nobody.”
The second of eight children born in Phnom Penh, Lim quit school at 16 to help her widowed father before Pol Pot decreed she leave the city for the countryside. There, she worked the fields, starting at 2 a.m., subsisted on next-to-nothing and lived in a crowded hut. “They said you were going for three days,” she remembers, “and you never went back.”
Three years later Lim begged for a reprieve. “You’ll be tiger food tonight,” she was told, before walking two days through the forest, a handmade spear at her side, her pocket filled with tiny notes friends passed along to bring to their families once she got to hers. “I’m alive!” the scribbles read.
Lim was 23 when she married the man she calls “Daddy” — the father of her three children. She was sick and pregnant in 1979 when they ran across the Cambodian border to a refugee camp in Thailand. Four years and three camps later, the couple landed at Sea-Tac with two children.
It was 10 p.m. and raining. Lim’s brother was there waiting.
The next morning, Taing was in the fields, shivering in the June rain, picking strawberries with his brother-in-law. Field work. Cleaning and painting houses. Cutting meat in a processing plant. Scrimp. Save. Work. Repeat. It allowed them to buy a doughnut shop from a fellow Cambodian.
Today, they exult in the warmth of their bakeshop community: The church-lady who stops every Sunday to pick up a standing order for 10 dozen. The middle-aged man who shows up each day to buy a doughnut for his 90-year-old mother.
The pair are proud of the hard work and solid craft that helped put their children, now working professionals, through college and bring extended family to this country.
Yes, they’re exhausted, says the doughnut man, who expects to someday sell the place to “someone like me” — who knew nothing about doughnuts but learned fast. “I lived under the communists. We had nothing. We worked for free. In my mind I said, ‘We can do everything! Why not do this?’ ”
Find Countryside Donut House at 21919 66th Ave. W., Mountlake Terrace.
Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times’ food writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. John Lok is a Times staff photographer.