'A happy baker makes happy doughnuts'

There are two ways to look at the eye of a doughnut: half empty or half full.

When each morning pairs the scent of fresh-baked dough with that of the salty ocean air at your beachside bakery, it's easy to live by the positive philosophy.

"A happy baker makes happy doughnuts," quipped Roger Eap, 25, owner of Seaside Bakery in Newport Beach.

The west-facing bakery next to the Newport pier on the peninsula has caught more than 25 years' worth of ocean sunsets over Blackie's Beach since Eap's father, Kong Eap, 60, bought the tiny shop in 1985.

A Cambodian immigrant who moved stateside in the late 1970s, Kong Eap worked daily shifts at the bakery for decades before passing the business to his son a few years ago.

"He came here, and he strove to succeed," Roger Eap said of his father. "I have so much respect for him. I'm his son, but you don't begin to understand your father until you're older. In my mind, I have to be as good as him, but I will never be as good as him."

Roger Eap started learning the tricks of the doughnut trade at age 14 by watching his father and the other Seaside bakers.

"That's why I want this to be successful," Roger Eap said. "Because my father worked so hard."

If the scores of customers who crowd the boxy, cash-only bakery in the early morning hours and the constant flow of sales throughout the day are any indication, Seaside Bakery has more than a baker's dozen of years ahead of it.

"It's a beautiful view, the employees are incredible — just the nicest people, really," said Newport Beach resident Keith Fearnley, 66, who has been going to Seaside Bakery for breakfast almost daily for more than 20 years.

"All my buddies and I enjoy our coffee and the view, and we set to solving all the world's problems," Fearnley continued with a laugh. "It gets the day off to a good start."

While the summer months bring in the tourist crowds, the oft-daily visits from the same local surfers, business owners and residents are the heart of the bakery's long life, Roger Eap said.

"We're flipping 80-cent products," Eap said. "It's all about customer service. The only thing keeping us going is keeping them coming back."

The bakery also offers fresh sandwiches, smoothies and muffins. On average, the counter stocks a variety of about 10 doughnuts, including a popular favorite in which blueberries are baked straight into the dough, which is then crowned with a crumb topping.

But it's the breakfast sandwiches that keep local and longtime customer Marcus Rossi coming back since 1996.

"Everyone wants the doughnuts," he said. "But I tell you, they'd be standing out there with pickets if they ever got rid of the ham and cheese croissant."

These relationships built with customers, many of which span decades and began with the elder Eap, make the job all the sweeter, Roger Eap said.

"It's like cooking for my family," he said. "When people like and appreciate the taste, it makes you feel good."

While Eap's father is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations — he's shifted his entrepreneurial focus to the hospitality industry in Barstow — the bakery looks very much the same as it did back in 1985.

Framed black-and-white photos and faded snapshots of smiling customers hang on the walls — remembrances of the bakery's early years.

For Roger Eap, the photos, cash-only register and other mementos of a time gone by represent both his father's legacy and his own future.

"This is how the locals know us," he said. "This is how we want to be remembered."

sarah.peters@latimes.com

Twitter: @speters01

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