This weekend, New York City's pastry wizard Dominique Ansel celebrated the one year anniversary of his mania-inducing croissant-doughnut hybrid the Cronut. It's been 12 months of epic lines, countless knockoffs, and plenty of television appearances.
Eater stopped by Ansel's SoHo bakery to talk about the Cronut's first year, and how Ansel has come to deal with the media circus surrounding a pastry he considers to be "just like what I do all the time," part of an ever-changing menu. Ansel discusses his plans for "mindful growth," his upcoming book, and why he's not going to retire the Cronut just yet. He also has some perspective on his other hit creations, like the milk and cookie shots: "I don't decide what's going to go viral next. Customers decide."
Do you remember the first day last year that you actually served the Cronuts and what happened that day?
I remember opening like any other day, and seeing the Cronut flying off the shelf. Within minutes, it was already gone. It went really fast. Really, really quick. That was the first day.
That first day were people already getting flustered about not getting a Cronut?
People thought they could just come back tomorrow.
There were people coming and asking for it, and we were like, "You know what, we sold out for today. Please come back later." That was the first day, so people ... I don't know if people knew, but they were like, "Okay, we'll come back tomorrow." [They think] "there'll be plenty."
The next day, I made a little bit more. There are still like, there were about 20, 25 people outside. They were gone in a matter of minutes too. By the third day, we had over 100 people outside. It happened in a matter of two days.
When, if ever, did the long line of people waiting for Cronuts start to just feel like a normal day at work?
[Laughs] It's hard to tell. I think it's never a normal day, nowadays ... but it's always a little bit special when people are coming from really all over the city. We have lots, lots of locals. But also people are coming from all over the world. You always meet people that have a story, meet people that come from somewhere you've never heard of, but it's very interesting. It's exciting every day.
A cronut. [Photo: Raphael Brion/Eater]
Speaking of exciting stories, some pretty wild things have happened on the Cronut line. Thinking back over the past year, what's the craziest thing that's ever happened on the Cronut line?
I would say one of them was this guy, knocking at the door, at 6 in the morning, asking for Cronuts. I was like, "You know what, sir, we will be open at 8. You have to wait until we open the doors." He's like, "I can't. I'm going to propose to my future wife. I have a ring here and I need to fly back to ... I'm in California and I want to put the ring in the Cronut." I was like, "Well, sir, we open at 8:00. You have to wait." He's like, "No, no, my flight is at 8:20. Please do something for me." I was like, "You know, sir, we don't have exceptions."
He shows me his flight, like his boarding pass. He had a print-out of boarding pass. He was getting engaged and he just wanted a Cronut to put a ring on it to ask his wife. I just finished it earlier for him, just for him and he went back home with it and proposed to his wife.
Did she say yes?
I hope so.
Aside from the monthly flavors, has the Cronut itself changed at all over the past year?
We always tweak a little bit the recipe to make it a little bit better. It's essentially the same recipe but we're always like perfecting [it], like we do with any other pastry. I test it every day myself, to make sure that the quality is there. We always adjust a little bit. The essence of the product, it reacts to temperature. It's temperature-sensitive, humidity-sensitive. So we'll just have to adjust a little bit to make it the same consistency and quality.
The Cronut really put a spotlight on the bakery. What's your strategy now when you're dealing with the press?
I don't decide what's going to go viral, customers decide.
There's no strategy. What I do every day is what I've been doing since I opened the shop. I love what I do, and I do what I love, which I'm lucky, you know? I think that people really appreciate what we do. We change the menu very often, every six to eight weeks. So changing for me is something natural, something I love doing and something that gets my customer excited about food.
There's no strategy. It is just like what I do all the time and I don't decide what's going to go viral next. Customers decide. They decide what they like. For example, last Christmas, we decided to do this special cereal mix for Christmas ... This went viral in a day. Of course, I thought it was good. Of course, I thought it was special, like everything we do. But it's always interesting to sell that many in such a short period of time.
You've been on some very big news shows with the Cronut likeFox & Friends.
How do those appearances come about?
We always have a lot of people reaching out to us. I think it's important for me to tell people the story about the Cronut, which is a very simple story. We make new things all the time. This happened to be one of them. When you asked me about strategy, there's none. It is just like one more product, like everything else we do. I care for it and I will want to tell people the story of it. It's fun to meet different people from different industries too.
What's the hardest part about doing a TV appearance like that?
The hardest part, I would say, is really to make people understand that we're one small shop on the streets of SoHo. It is not like a big multi-million dollar company. It is small, tiny shop. We made a name for ourselves. People know us internationally now. But we're still a small shop. Our kitchen is right here. It's the smallest kitchen I've ever had. Dishwasher right here next to us. We do the best we can to put up as much food as we can with the highest quality and standard that I expect.
[Screengrab: Late Night With Jimmy Fallon]
What's been your favorite TV appearance so far?
I really like Jimmy Fallon. I thought it was like really, really good energy. The Roots, I had a chance to meet The Roots and Questlove. They were really, really fun, very sweet. After the show, we went backstage. I was the last segment. We went backstage. I brought a few treats for them, and there were hundreds of people there from the team. They all came. Jimmy sat with us for a good half an hour, talking to us about the bakery and what we're doing. It was a lot of fun.
What's next for the Cronut? Would you ever retire it?
What's next for the Cronut? We keep on changing the flavor every month, which is really fun for me. I think the Cronut has done a lot of good things. A lot of people are asking me too, "Why don't you sell out? Why don't you get a big factory? Mass produce it?" I don't believe in mass production. It's not something you can mass produce and serve people good quality.
With the Cronut, I've done some good things last year. We raised over $100,000 for charities. Most of them were to fight against hunger. From the small town where I [am from] ... There was always not enough food, and to me it's a very important matter. People are suffering. In big city like New York, there's so many good restaurants, so much food, so much wealth. People forget that people are hungry here too, and when I have a chance to really use the resources that I have to give back to charity, I'll happily do it.
Would you ever consider expanding the bakery or opening another location?
I think any healthy business should expand and grow.
I think any healthy business should expand and grow. I think it has to be a mindful growth. That's what's most important for me. I don't believe in replicating the same concept in a different location, but I believe in unique and different concepts. Eventually if I do something else, that's what I will do. Something different, something else from than what we have now. Or, even better if I can...
I think it's just important for me to do good things with our Cronut. The Cronut's a representation of innovation, creativity. This is why also we don't try to mass produce it. I want people to enjoy all the desserts. And to show creativity and different skills, to keep innovating and creating new things when it comes to pastry.