When you see a bright pink cardboard box in Los Angeles, you know that doughnuts must be nearby. But for a long time, the origins of the pink doughnut boxes were unknown—until now. David Pierson, a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, dug into the history of LA's doughnut scene for the paper, to find out why doughnut boxes are pink. As he explained on NPR's Marketplace, "The pink boxes have existed for decades but really didn't reach the sort of, let's say, unsung icon status until the 1970s. That's when there was this demographic change in our local doughnut industry." The shift? "Cambodian refugees started coming into the country after the Vietnam War, and they were drawn to the doughnut business, and they're the ones who made these pink boxes with doughnuts sort of synonymous."
If Los Angeles is the center of the doughnut world, then Cambodian doughnut shops are its arbiters. As Abby Walthusen explained for this site, "Today, 80 percent of independent donut shops in LA are Cambodian-owned." And according to Pierson, it was a Cambodian doughnut shop owner who first asked for a pink doughnut box. But the reason for the switch was purely practical, not at all aesthetic.
Pierson traced the pink cardboard box back to its original manufacturer, then known as Westco. "According to company lore," Pierson writes, "a Cambodian doughnut shop owner asked Westco some four decades ago if there were any cheaper boxes available other than the standard white cardboard. So Westco found leftover pink cardboard stock and formed a 9-by-9-by-4-inch container with four semicircle flaps to fold together. To this day, people in the business refer to the box as the '9-9-4,'" and it's apparently the perfect size for a dozen doughnuts.
Those pink boxes became standard among Cambodian doughnut shops in southern California, in no small part because the switching from traditional white boxes was an easy way to save a little extra money. And the rest is history that you can still enjoy today.