It’s no secret LA takes pride in its food scene, especially its doughnuts. If you decide to indulge in the city, you’ll most likely find your dozen served in a pink doughnut box. Ballet slipper pink seems a random choice for everyone’s favorite breakfast pastry, but the tradition has been around for decades. (Find out where the doughnut hole came from, too.)
The iconic box started with just one company in the 1970s, according to the LA Times. Cambodian refugee Ted Ngoy started opening doughnut shops in Orange County, California. He’d use the shops as a way to support other refugees from his country, providing them with work and visas. Ngoy’s network grew quickly, and soon he had locations in L.A. County, making a splash in the city’s doughnut scene.
Even though pink doughnut boxes weren’t new when Ngoy’s business took off, his shops were the ones to make them icons. The exact story of why he started using pink boxes has been lost in history, but there are a couple theories.
Any businessperson knows the importance of saving money where you can. So one doughnut shop owner—likely either Ngoy or his business partner Ning Yen—called the box supplier Westco to ask if there were any boxes cheaper than the standard white ones. Westco scrounged up some leftover pink cardboard stock, which was a few cents cheaper than the white cardboard. A few cents doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up when you’re buying hundreds or thousands of boxes every week. (Save money yourself by cutting out these 14 tiny splurges that cost you big.)
Yen’s son, Peter, has another theory as to why the shops started producing pink boxes. Many of the refugees were ethnically Chinese and saw white as a color of mourning—not what you’d want to associate with your business. Peter remembers his dad talking about red boxes instead. After all, the color is supposed to bring good luck. (Check out these other 12 good luck charms from around the world.)
“I know they wanted to do red boxes,” Peter Yen, a sales manager at his father’s box manufacturing company Santa Ana Packaging, tells the LA Times, “but the mills kept sending it back pink.”
No matter how it started, the light pink boxes seem so fitting today. After all, the bubblegum pink practically screams, “sweets!” And that’s exactly what we want to scream when we’re about to dig our teeth into a frosted doughnut, too.
Need to cut back on the doughnuts? Find out how to kick a sugar addiction for good.