New Bainbridge business owner brings history along with donuts

Published 6:14 pm Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Sowanna helps a customer purchase their morning donuts. — Carolyn Iamon

It is a life-time away, and many miles from Cambodia to Bainbridge, Georgia, U.S.A.

Sovanna (pronounced SoVon) and his wife Jan, came here six weeks ago to open their own business.

Southern Maid Donut shop on S. Scott Street officially opened last week and the word is rapidly spreading, especially to those who walk by when the aroma of baking donuts fills the air and draws them in.

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Sovanna was just a small boy, 2 years old, when his father and pregnant mother fled Cambodia on foot to escape the genocide killings of the communist Khmer Rouge era. His father has told him the story of how they walked for three days and nights, hiding in the bushes from those who would kill them on sight. They succeeded in making it to the border of Thailand to the safety of a refugee camp. Once there, they had to stay until a family in the U.S. was found who agreed to sponsor them. They lived in the camp for three years.

Finally, a family in Dallas, Texas, sponsored their family and they were allowed to leave.

Sovanna tells that although his father was a teacher when they were in Cambodia, the family spoke little English. When they arrived in Texas they attended a Baptist Church where refugees, many of them from Cambodia, as well as some from India, took English lessons.

He recalls growing up they had very little in the way of material things. In 1998 he joined the U.S. Marines and served eight years as a supply administrator. He was stationed in Okinawa, Paris Island, Jacksonville and did two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He was in Jacksonville when 911 happened and spent the next three months on a ship assigned to boarder patrol along the East coast.

When his father became ill, Sovanna left the Marines and came home to help his father with his business – Southern Maid Donuts. That is where he learned the trade. He and his wife have been making donuts for several years, but this is the first time they have tried it on their own.

Now, he is just determined to build something for himself, his wife and three children. “I just want to get the best for my kids, especially an education.”

He and his wife, also of Cambodian heritage, returned to their home country in 2008 to see what the country was like. They described it as a culture shock. “There is a lot of poverty. It is so sad,” they explain. There are many kids on the streets who have nothing and most are orphans. They also noted the unsanitary water conditions.

Although Sovanna and Jan say they have little, they send offerings to their country to try to help those who have even less. “I don’t have much myself, but it feels good to give back to my country,” he says.

He said he is determined to make a go of his business. He strives to respect everyone that comes through the door, adding, “If you feel good about what you are doing, and love what you do, you make others (customers) feel good.”

The customers who arrived during the interview were torn with decisions over which kind of donuts to buy— cake or glazed, frosted or dusted, cinnamon rolls or apple fritters.

There is also a breakfast menu that includes pigs in a blanket, biscuits, croissants, burritos, fresh brewed coffee and sodas and a few tables to sit and enjoy them.

Sovanna said he is very thankful to be living in the United States of America and complimented the city for the help they gave him in getting the building ready for occupancy.

They open at 5 a.m. for those who wish to indulge their craving for donuts and coffee, and close at 2 p.m.