If you live outside LA, it may come as a surprise to you that pretty much all the doughnut boxes there are pink. But if you're an Angelino, you might be surprised that they aren't pink everywhere. You may not even stop to wonder why doughnut boxes are pink because it seems like that's just how it's always been. But according to a new Los Angeles Times investigation, there's a fascinating history behind the container's signature hue.
Doughnuts became a booming business in LA in the '70s largely due to Cambodian refugees, who ran many of the shops. One of them, Ted Ngoy, got rich starting doughnut shops all over and around LA county before losing much of his money gambling. In his prime, he was a master at cutting costs — and that skill may have led him to adopt the pink boxes we see today.
Most doughnut shops got their boxes from a distributor called Westco, and around 40 years ago, an owner asked if they had cheaper boxes than the white ones they normally sold. It turned out they did, and they happened to be made of leftover pink cardboard. They were 9-by-9-by-4-inch, the dimensions of today's standard LA doughnut boxes.
While Westco didn't remember who first made this request, Ngoy thinks it was him or his business partner Ning Yen. "We doughnut makers were all about saving money," he said. "Why buy the more expensive white? Save a few pennies and make big bucks." Yen's son Peter said that red was actually his dad's top choice, since refugees considered it a lucky color, but he received pink ones instead.
Now, as companies compete for Instagrammability, doughnut shops are trying to do more creative things with their boxes. But the association between doughnuts and pink has become so strong many see the pink box as part of the doughnut-eating experience. As Sharon Vilsack, a customer of the LA doughnut shop Rose Donuts & Cafe, said, "I’m like one of Pavlov’s dogs when I see a pink box...My mouth starts watering because I know what’s inside."