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For the month of March, Econ Extra Credit invites you to view the film “The Donut King”, available for stream on Hulu and to rent or buy on several other platforms.

The courage needed to keep a small business alive is immense – and the chances of survival are slim.

According to data from the US Small Business Administration, less than half of small businesses will be about five years after opening and only a quarter will remain 15 years later. What’s so remarkable about the donut shops featured in “The Donut King” is how long they’ve held up, even after big chains like Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ entered the California market.

Ellen Rolfes / Market

Beating the odds for decades may not be sustainable for those who work. Many donut shops featured in “The Donut King” are open seven days a week, some 24 hours a day. Owners recounted the long hours they had to put in – up to 16 hours a day – just to operate the company.

This experience highlights a broader trend. According to a survey by The New York Enterprise Report, most small business owners work more than 50 hours per week; 25% report working more than 60 hours per week. (That’s well below the weekly hours for the average worker, 34.8 hours in December 2021, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

One way to achieve work-life balance is to integrate work with family life. Decades after opening DK’s Donuts in Santa Monica, owner Chuong Pek Lee was still working more than 12-hour days. Even with the help of her daughter Mayly Tao and other family members, the constant routine has not stopped.

“My mother [was telling me], ‘My hands hurt, my feet hurt. I think it’s time to sell the store,” Tao told David Brancaccio in “Marketplace Morning Report.” “When she told me, my heart sank, for I had dedicated my heart and soul to it.”

“We operated a 24-hour bakery that was in high demand and very popular. I mean, people come at all hours of the day. In the end, Tao said, the store’s relentless demands outweighed its success.

More donuts?

This excellent article from The Economist looks at the economics of independent donut shops in California and explores the extent to which it would be possible to replicate the successes of donut shops in the 70s, 80s and 90s as vehicles for achieving the American dream. .

For more on Ted Ngoy’s rise and fall as the OG “Donut King,” read this story from writer Greg Nichols, which was featured in the doc.

And our producer Alex Schroeder points to this recent NPR story about artist Phung Huynh using pink donut boxes to screen print portraits of Cambodian Americans who grew up in their family’s donut shops. His solo exhibition in Los Angeles is aptly named Donut (W)hole.