Richard Eng's doughnut business didn't need a horrific story to help fuel its viral success.
But when tragedy struck the bakery owner, the doughnuts and the customers who loved them helped inspire this baker to soldier on.
In Queens, New York, Black Label Donuts operates from a modest pop-up shop inside Nippon Cha. Amid the tables where restaurant customers sip on bowls of ramen, patrons waiting in line for Eng's masterpieces bask in the smell of rich chocolate, salted espresso, rose petals and creamy banana fillings being baked into clouds of brioche dough.
"I try and approach doughnuts with a fine dining sensibility," Eng told TODAY correspondent Kristen Dahlgren. "I try to, ya know, give it a little more sophistication. The matcha creme brûlée — you wanna take that doughnut and like dab it all over you because it's so fragrant, it's so perfume-y."
As a boy, Eng wanted to be a doctor. That desire translated into possessing artful, scientific skills in the kitchen. Some of Black Label's other doughnuts include Chocolate Rose Cake with rose petals, a winter citrus Kumquat Glazed confection and, of course, there's the peanut butter and banana custard-filled Funky Monkey dusted in curry sugar.
When it first started, Black Label Donuts did not even have a website, but the flavors spoke loud enough to earn fame in the New York City food world simply by word of mouth — with many people waiting in line for hours just to get a treat.
On May 19, 2018, Eng's shop was proclaimed to have the "Absolute Best Doughnuts in New York" by Grub Street.
Two weeks later, on June 5, Eng was attacked while getting out of his car and shot in the face. He remained conscious during the entire incident.
Since the horrific crime, police have determined that it was a random armed robbery but haven't caught the men who took Eng's fate into their own hands.
Although he was alive, Eng did not feel like the man who, just weeks before, was the proud owner of an extremely popular bakery.
"I didn't want to see any reflections. I kept the room dark. Ya' know, I didn't know mentally if I could take, take it in. I didn't want to be the elephant man," Eng told TODAY, before adding that comments left on Black Label Donut's social media pages helped support him through recovery.
On Instagram, dozens of people have offered support and prayers.
"So sorry to hear what those scumbag cowards did to you. Best wishes for a speedy recovery! Prayers on prayers on prayers! Be strong the world needs people like you in it," one person posted.
"Rich, I couldn’t believe what I heard and honestly didn’t know what to say or think...wishing you a speedy recovery," another said. "Please get better soon, okay?"
"Wishing you a speedy recovery. Just learned the news after walking by and seeing you weren't there. I felt your passion every time you spoke about your donuts. Cant wait for your major comeback," another fan wrote.
After about four months, making a major comeback is exactly what Eng decided to do. With a scarred face and a strong heart, Eng persevered over his fears. Amid the news of his return, Eng's doughnuts sold out even faster than they had before, with people waiting ungrudgingly up to three hours for a taste of a little piece of heaven.
"When you love something so much, you know, and it's a passion, you wanna get back at it," Eng told TODAY.