A beloved doughnut shop owner in Southern California has returned behind the counter after a year with gratitude to regular customers and visitors who frequented her business while she was recovering from a critical health condition.
Stella Chhan, 64, had been running Donut City in Small Beach with her husband John for nearly three decades until late 2018, when a bulbous artery in her brain left her partly paralyzed and unable to speak.
Stella and John, who have been married for 34 years, came to the United States from Cambodia as refugees in 1979. Eleven years later, they bought Donut City.
“We are a team,” John told the Orange County Register. “We know how to work together. We never argue. She is very kind to me.”
News of Stella’s debilitating brain aneurysm eventually spread to the local community.
John, on the other hand, ended up working from 4:00 a.m. each morning, serving patrons who worried about his wife’s condition.
“We tried to offer him money to help with the medical expenses with Stella, and he just wouldn’t accept,” Marc Loopesko, a regular customer, told CBS News.
Unwilling to accept handouts, John decided to try a buyout, which customers then spread about in kindness on social media.
Among their helpful patrons is Dawn Caviola, who has been buying their donuts for more than a decade.
“I went home and I just couldn’t get it out of my head. They are just such hardworking people,” she told NBC News after hearing about Stella in 2018.
Caviola urged others to help through a blog post on Nextdoor, a social networking site for neighborhoods.
“I have never done anything like that before but I just thought if everyone can just buy a dozen doughnuts, it might help him out,” she told NBC News. “I didn’t think it would become this big.”
Soon, Donut City was selling like hotcakes, with people from all over the country dropping by for multiple boxes. Some even came from abroad.
“Not only to buy just one doughnut, but dozens,” Loopesko, who noticed people coming from as far as 70 miles, told CBS News. “They didn’t even want a doughnut, but they came here and helped.”
While Stella spent her days in recovery, John had been baking 50 dozen doughnuts, along with bagels, muffins and croissants, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The publicity also turned out for the good, as John soon found himself spending more time by his wife’s side.
After a series of treatments and rehabilitation work, Stella — whose prognosis had been frighteningly uncertain — returned to her job last Spring, much to the joy of the local community.
“They like me better than him,” she told the OC Register teasingly. “He was always in the back working and I was out front. I know everybody, I know what size coffee they want.”
And while her health has been restored, visitors — including foreigners — still come from time to time.
“Vans have pulled up with people from Germany, Japan, Singapore. They want a photo of themselves with my husband,” she told the OC Register.
“Then they see me and say, ‘Are you Stella? You’re here?'” she added, laughing. “They’re surprised. They think I died or something.”
Feature Image Screenshots via CBS This Morning