Ever since patrons and community members found out in mid-October that Stella Chhan was ill, they have been arriving at Donut City in Seal Beach, south of Los Angeles, to buy doughnuts by the dozen. The intent is to allow John Chhan to close his Southern California shop early each day so he can spend time with Stella, his wife.
Dawn Caviola, 58, has been a regular of Donut City for the past 13 years — visiting twice a month with her daughter. But during her most recent visit she found out that John Chhan, 62, was maintaining the shop on his own because Stella Chhan, 63, had suffered an aneurysm in late September and was recovering at a rehabilitation center.
"I went home and I just couldn't get it out of my head," Caviola told NBC News on Saturday. "They are just such hardworking people."
Caviola decided to write a blog post on the private community network, Nextdoor, to urge local residents to help.
"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. I didn't think it would become this big," she said.
The blog post said that if they managed to buy out his inventory for the day, Chann could leave early to spend time with his wife.
The post immediately went viral on social media and Facebook — in part because the doughnut shop is considered an institution in the area.
For the past 28 years, the couple and their baker have gotten to the shop at 2 a.m. PT every day to bake the doughnuts. They then open to the community by 4:30 a.m., seven days a week. It's a routine they've more or less kept to since opening the store in 1990, a decade after the husband and wife arrived in the U.S. as refugees from Cambodia.
Marc Loopesko, a resident of Seal Beach for 22 years, has been frequenting the shop for nearly two decades. He was one of the hundreds of locals who saw the post and decided to take action.
"[Donut City] has always been a local, convenient place for when I had a doughnut urge," he said.
Loopesko decided that in addition to buying doughnuts, the community could offer the idea of starting a GoFundMe page for the Chhans but the shop owner politely declined, saying that he would rather have extra time with his wife.
Caviola said she wanted to help give him that. "People can just do a simple thing for their neighbors," she said. "There are people who don't even eat sugar who are buying doughnuts from Mr. Chhan and giving them out to strangers."
On Saturday morning, John Chhan was preparing to close his shop by 8:30 a.m. "We sold everything already," he told NBC News. "I feel very warm and very happy. Thank you to everyone."
Chhan also said that his wife was recovering well and he hopes to have her back in the shop shortly.
"She is a lot better," he said. "She can speak now and she is learning how to eat again."