An old-fashioned diner sign towers barely above the streetlights at the intersection of Silver Lake Boulevard and North Dillon Street. The sounds of skateboarders echo through the air next to Mom’s Donuts and Chinese Food to Go, distinctly shaped with triangular edges, painted with bright blue and pink hues of donuts, cats, and chickens. 

The donut shop has been managed by husband and wife Henry Trang and Heidy Diep for the past 30 years. They are among the numerous immigrants from Southeast Asia who have shaped Southern California into a quintessential donut destination. Things rapidly changed in December last year and the shop closed, with just a small sign on the door –Trang underwent an emergency triple bypass heart surgery after experiencing a heart attack. His stay in the ICU meant that the donut shop had to shut down its daily operations temporarily. 

Fans of the mom-and-pop shop quickly rallied together in support. Alexis Cabrera, a regular at the shop, organized a GoFundMe fundraiser to help offset the couple’s rental expenses. Cabrera had first tasted an apple fritter in November 2021 after moving to Silverlake from Humboldt, California. 

“It’s so much more than junk food. You can taste that Henry and Heidi really love you…it’s like a mom making sure that you’re getting fed,” Cabrera recalled in an interview. She grew close with Trang and Diep over the past few years, becoming a repeat customer. 

Mom’s Donuts has a minimal social media presence: other than a Facebook page and a page on Yelp, there are few options to search and find the shop online (except for a prominent feature in local indie rock band Starcrawler’s “I Love LA” music video in 2017) and no way to deliver through apps like UberEats. The shop accepts credit cards, but no digital payments like Apple Pay.

However, the donut shop’s strong nostalgic presence is clearly reflected in how quickly the GoFundMe blew up. Altogether, the page received more than $14,000 in donations. 

“I’ve been enjoying their donuts+Chinese food ever since 2009! I was basically raised on that food. They are very kind people who don’t deserve this pain and stress,” one donor, Clarissa Salem, posted on the page. Another called Mom’s Donuts “a Silverlake institution.” 

Sitting in the shop after ordering half a dozen donut holes, Laurence Geronilla recalled visiting Mom’s Donuts on Sundays for chess club. He said that Trang and Diep created a welcoming atmosphere, where he could play his music and “kick it outside with friends.” Diep would occasionally join in when he picked a Vietnamese song and sang along. Growing up in this neighborhood and now working across the street at the auto shop, Geronilla pointed out how many places nearby had closed during the pandemic. A smaller Target opened up next door on North Dillon Street in early 2023. 

“This is the spot where it’s like everything’s changing,” Geronilla said, hinting at Silverlake’s ongoing gentrification. “I’m gonna fight for this place and always give them money when I can.” 

Although she is uncertain of when they will retire, Diep said that it was important to return to the shop after Trang’s surgery to serve the customers in the community. Waking up to start preparing the donuts at 3 AM six days of the week, the Vietnamese first-generation immigrants are deeply invested in each interaction.

“No matter what, I tell Henry, I know that you don’t have more energy but I try to do as much as I can. I want to be back to see our customers. Even if something happened, I still have time to say goodbye to them,” she said. For every person who walked through the door, Diep spent a few minutes asking questions about their family’s well-being, before returning to sweep the floors in the kitchen. After closure, she drives her husband to the hospitals for follow-up appointments. 

During Trang’s recovery, Vincent Villella, another regular, volunteered in the mornings to help bake and keep the shop running, often lifting heavy boxes of ingredients. 

“[Henry’s] obviously a master at what he’s doing. So honestly, I was a little intimidated,” Villella said. Trang was a patient teacher instructing him with his special recipes. “Henry does put his own special touch into it. And I think that’s what makes it stand apart.” 

While there is plenty of good food in Los Angeles, Mom’s Donuts is a “symbol of older LA,” he added. It was the “genuine” nature of Trang and Diep that kept him coming back even after moving to Downtown LA. When asked about what he hopes for the Silverlake staple’s future, Villella reflected on how although the shop may have missed the digital age, Mom’s Donuts does not need to become the most popular donut shop in the city in order to keep up their success for the community around them. 

“I don’t think they need to be crazy popular or really change anything at this point,” Villella said. “They just need word of mouth to get out.” 

Helen Li is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles.

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