For the past few weeks, chef Dominique Ansel's eponymous New York City bakery has been the site of Cronut Mania. People have been waiting in long lines as early as 6 am to get one of the 200 croissant-doughnut hybrids the bakery sells every day. After almost a month, there seems to be no sign of slowing. Eater met the chef at his SoHo bakery to hear what he has to say about the madness he started:
What inspired you to create the Cronut?
Dominique Ansel: We change our menu very often. I like to do new things, fun things to eat. We all wanted to do something like a doughnut, but not really a doughnut. And I thought that taking a twist on a doughnut with a croissant would be fun. That's where the idea came from.
Were you aiming to create this kind of response?
Not really. It was just an addition to the menu. I didn't know it would take such a big part of the food world.
Why do you think Cronuts have become such a fascination for New Yorkers?
I think because there's a cultural reference to American people with the doughnut and the croissant. Everybody knows what a croissant is, everybody knows what a doughnut is. But something that looks and tastes like both at the same time is something they've never seen before ? Everything we do at the bakery, we try to be innovative, we try to create a lot of new things.
What have people's reactions been when they couldn't get one of the 200 cronuts you sell a day? How does your staff handle the disappointed crowds?
So the rations have been sometimes understood and sometimes not. Every morning I go out there and see how many people are in line. And depending on how many people are out there, I talk to people. I talk to everybody and tell them that by the time they get to the register we might not have enough for everybody. It's very important for me to go out and communicate with my customers. I don't want people to wait in line thinking they're going to have a Cronut and not get any. We do small batches, a few batches in the morning. We try hard to make more, but the kitchen is small ? we are trying hard to make a bit more everyday, but I want to keep the quality very consistent. So quality over quantity ...
As you know, someone flipped off one of our baristas, which I was really not happy about. Our staff is trying to give good service to everybody. They are all very very sweet and very kind ... and when you have 150 people waiting inside the shop and outside, and we have a few baristas to help them, you have to understand that people behind the counter are here to help, are here to serve people, and the last thing you should do is be rude to them. I'm very protective of my staff. They're my eyes, they're my voice when I'm not here ... having respect for them is very important to me. I've seen people asking my baristas if they can set some [Cronuts] aside, or give them money ... I've seen people crying. I've seen people come two or three times and then finally understand that they need to come much earlier and then being the first in line on the fourth day.
You recently trademarked the term Cronut. What are you intending to do with the trademark?
We are just protecting our creation. We did an international trademark, just to be on the safe side. I mean, I'm sure we can keep doing the cronut for a long time.
Have you heard of any imposters trying to create and sell Cronuts?
Well, I'm very flattered. I've heard a few things. I'm very flattered to be an inspiration for people. My lawyer says something else ... We're protecting our creation [with the trademark], and then our lawyers do their jobs as well, but we're not trying to do anything wrong to anyone.
Cronut Mania has brought a lot of attention to you and your bakery. What lessons have you learned from being at the center of a food craze?
What I've learned is that it's very difficult to make everybody happy. What I've learned is that it's one thing to make one product, but also people have to see it in a different way. We have so many great items on the menu ? We don't only have one product that is special and unique, we have a lot more. That's the message I want to give. We are trying to make small batches of everything we do, to keep the quality very high.
It's exciting to see a lot of people at the door everyday. It's a satisfaction to know that people come for you, for your food, and that they recognize that you do something unique and special. I have to give props to my team too. My staff has been working very hard — in the kitchen, in the front [of the house] — everybody has been working really hard the last couple of weeks to try to satisfy the needs of our customers.