Pull off zippy Seventh Street and into Knead Donuts & Tea any time on a weekend morning, and you’re likely to land just as another batch of warm, twisty tiger tails or blueberry doughnuts are being pulled out of the fryer, ready for glazing. If you’re lucky, it’s a tray of freshly flambéed crème brûlée doughnuts waiting for your choice of three custard-y fillings; every few weeks, it’s an entirely new creation you’ve never thought of consuming as a doughy, frosted ring before, including chocolate-mint pistachio and cakey pumpkin spice (’tis the season, after all).
Owner Huey Behuynh is the mastermind behind the colorful spread of sweets, which contracts only slightly on weekdays. He makes all his doughnuts in small batches to preserve the integrity of the ingredients, so on busy days, he’s already four or five baking shifts in by noon. The smell of sweet dough, fruit and frosting shelters you from the world outside like a warm house in the woods during a bristling storm.
Behuynh is no stranger to comforting Long Beach with home-style cooking. He and his family are the former owners of Siem Reap, one of the handful of Cambodian restaurants that served traditional Khmer food and hosted parties during Anaheim Street’s heydey. Before it closed in 2015, it had become a go-to for delivery and takeout, though more customers seemed to be interested in ordering off the Chinese and Thai menus than exploring the pungent, fascinating world of Cambodian cuisine (RIP to my favorite amok trey in Long Beach).
After taking some time off, Behuynh decided to “try something new” by doing what many Cambodians have done since coming to the U.S. as refugees in the 1970s: He bought a doughnut shop and made it his own.
He first opened a relatively tame outpost of Knead Donuts in Tennessee, then took over the rundown 24-hour Gladstone Donuts in Long Beach last year and quickly overhauled its facilities, menu and reputation.
Bright-white wraps patterned with Angkor Wat and rolling pins now cover all the street-facing windows, heralding the arrival of not only the “best Viet coffee” in town (with customizable sugar and milk levels), but also a next-generation doughnut shop that rivals any of the hipster business plans you’ve seen on Instagram. It’s about time the very people who have been making everyday doughnuts for the masses for the past 30 years get a voice in SoCal’s “fancy doughnut” revolution, so Knead’s strawberry-margarita doughnut (with a shot of tequila inside) and cereal-topped glaze bombs (such as the Cinnamon Toast Crunch) fit right in.
Knead isn’t the first shop in Long Beach to make doughnuts that are as creative and pretty as they are delicious (Sweet Retreat Donuts opened in 2015), but it sets itself apart with constant innovation (Behuynh has about 30 different recipes perfected) and by also selling a full range of coffee-shop and breakfast items.
So the next time you’re zooming down Seventh Street, stop in and grab whatever’s coming out of the oven. The tiger tails, horchata doughnuts and buttery pigs in a blanket are all best eaten when warm.
Knead Donuts & Tea, 3490 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (562) 248-2858; www.facebook.com/kneaddonutlongbeach.
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.