Business

Meet ‘Dee,’ the smiling face behind Master Donuts in Citrus Heights

Master Donuts, Citrus Heights
Vongdee Cheak has been the smiling face behind Master Donuts in Citrus Heights for the past 24 years. // CH Sentinel

By Hazel Ford–
Vongdee Cheak, 62, has been busily running her popular donut shop in Citrus Heights for the past 24 years. Master Donuts, located on Sunrise Boulevard at the intersection of Old Auburn Road, is stocked with dozens of pastries, freshly made at least twice daily.

Known as “Dee” to customers, friends, and family, Cheak puts her whole heart into her baking. The schedule is exhausting — she wakes up at 3:30 a.m. every morning to make fresh batches of pastries, and she often works 10 to 12 hours each day.

She offers customers a wide variety of pastries, from classic iced and cake donuts, to bar donuts, to croissants and muffins. “My [best sellers] are bars, apple fritters, cinnamon rolls — just about everything,” she said.

“With a donut shop, you work hard,” she told The Sentinel in a recent interview. “You wake up early, and sometimes you have to stay awake late, but I’m a strong lady; I can handle it.”

Prices range from under a dollar for individual classic donuts, to $10 for a dozen plain donuts and $20 for a dozen mixed donuts. Master Donuts also offers coffee and other beverages for customers. Donuts are available to-go, but the shop also has plenty of seats, inside and out, to relax or work while enjoying a pastry.

Cheak, who came to the United States in the 1980s from Cambodia, said people have been asking for years when she’ll retire. She knows that she’ll be able to pass the business on to her family, but has no plans of quitting any time soon.

Her business is her passion. “That’s my life: food,” she said. Her passion has also earned her an impressive 4.5-out-of-5 stars from nearly 100 reviews on Yelp, many of whom comment about her popular apple fritters and friendly customer service.

The most enjoyable part of running her shop, she said, is talking to her customers. Some of her customers visit daily, and she’s built strong friendships over the decades. She said they are like her family, and most all of them know her signature phrase as they leave the shop: “See you tomorrow!”

One of her long-time customers was even the inspiration for the catchphrase “Donuts made me smart” printed on Cheak’s Master Donuts shirt. The customer first came to the shop about 20 years ago, Cheak said, and really loved her donuts. He had a shirt depicting a cartoon newspaper that had the phrase on it and he gave it to her.

She kept it until he passed away, and then adopted the phrase as a reminder of him.

The baker doesn’t currently have big plans for the future, she’s content with enjoying her shop as it is.  “I do really good here. I know everything about donuts,” she said with a laugh.

When asked if she would consider expanding, she explained that such a decision would fall into the hands of her daughter, once she retires. “If my kid can do it, I’d think about expanding, because I’m very much that kind of business.”

She does, however, have some concerns about future plans to build a Human Bean coffee drive-thru next door to her business, which received unanimous approval from the planning commission last January but has not begun construction.  The nearby coffee sales next door, she worries, will be harmful competition for her.

“I don’t want it, but I’m not a landlord,” she said.

Related: Human Bean: coffee drive-thru seeks to open new Citrus Heights location

When asked how she resists the urge to eat too many donuts, Cheak said, “You think I don’t eat them? I eat a lot, every day.”

“You should come see me at four o’clock — I can’t stop eating the donut holes. My diet is donuts.”

Master Donuts is located at 7601 Sunrise Blvd. and is open daily from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m.