Plenty of food stories came and went in 2013, but there’s only one that even your grandma in Wichita will be talking about over the holiday: the unstoppable rise of the Cronut. Since Grub Street broke the story of the croissant-doughnut back in March, the hybrid pastry has taken on a life of its own. Celebrities fiended for a taste of the coveted treat. Interminable lines appeared and never diminished. A black market emerged, and knockoffs appeared everywhere from the West Village to South Korea.
While the world was being whipped into a Cronut frenzy, there was a person in the background living through the day-to-day madness of Cronut mania.
That person is pastry chef Dominique Ansel, who—alongside DA Bakery spokeswoman Amy Ma—saw some pretty insane, inspiring, and wonderful things happen in 2013. Over the course of eight months, an entire culture has formed around the cream-filled pastry, not to mention the Cronut line has become a proper Soho scene. Couples have met in line; everyone from Hugh Jackman to the First Lady of France has queued up for a box; and club girls have rifled through the trash heaps looking from Cronut scraps.
Now that the first year of Cronut frenzy is almost over, we sat down with Dominique and Amy to find out what all this hoopla looked like from the inside. Here are their craziest Cronut moments thus far.
On celebrities who wait in line
Amy Ma: I remember when Leonardo DiCaprio waited in line. On the same day that he came, Lenny Kravitz also came and the employees were so excited—it was a very celebrity-driven day. And they were both so fair, they both waited in line. Lenny got a frozen s’more. And I remember walking into the bakery and he was waiting outside and they were like, “Lenny Kravitz is outside eating a frozen s’more.” And we looked, and there he was.
Dominique Ansel: Everybody knows, even celebrities, that you must wait in line. They either wait or they send someone for them.
AM: It was really, really fun when you met Hugh Jackman.
DA: Yeah, Hugh was fun. He comes here very often.
AM: He told Dominique, “Now that I know you, can I cut the line?” Dominique was like, “No, I’m sorry.” And Hugh said, “Now I love you even more.”
On Cronut courtship
AM: We had one person violently knocking on our door at 6am. He said, “I’m here, I’m the first one in line, I’ve been here since 5am. I’m proposing to my girlfriend and I have to leave.”
DA: Once, there were two different guys in line—like one next to each other—they were both there to propose on the same day. And one was flying to Florida and one was flying somewhere else and they both had early flights so they had to wait. They got there at like 3 o’clock in the morning because they wanted to be the first in line. They put a ring inside the Cronut, or on top of the Cronut, for their wives.
DA: A lot of people meet in line. We heard a story that two people who met in line started dating.
A sentimental moment
Amy: On the bakery’s second-year anniversary, the staff worked for days to surprise Dominique. And we made a cake and we didn’t let him know. And then in the morning, they told him that a hobo and a scalper had broken out in a blood fight outside. And he ran out.
DA: I started running outside, I was ready to break up the fight.
AM: It was a surprise. So when he went out, the line of like 150 people that day sang, “Happy Birthday.”
DA: I was so surprised. I ran outside like, “Where’s the fight?” Everybody starts singing happy birthday and they had a huge cake for me.
AM: That was really sweet. And then afterwards, everyone in the line was like, “Give us a speech.” And what did Dominique say? He said, “Could you guys please be quiet for the neighbors?”
On Jimmy Fallon’s love for DA pastries
AM: Right after we did the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, we pushed everything backstage—we brought additional stuff for the crew and everyone to try. Then Jimmy came back and one of the producers was like, “Oh this is good, he never comes back.”
DA: He always leaves right after the show.
AM: And we just like, crazy fed him—I think he ate one of everything.
DA: He stayed for half an hour with us.
AM: And we stayed with the band—the Roots guys were super nice. It was just like this after-show dessert session. It was really fun. When we walked into 30 Rock that day, the security guards were like, “Oh my gosh, you guys are here.” They saw the boxes and they were like, “Don’t tell me what’s in there.”
On Questlove’s inability to come to Dominique Ansel Bakery during opening hours
Am: After the Tonight Show, Dominique and Questlove became friends. And then, Questlove was always saying, “I’ll go to the bakery whenever I have a chance.” But for the first couple of times, he wasn’t sure when the opening hours were, so he kept coming when we were closed. He was like, “I’m on my way,” and we’re like, “We’re closed,” and he’s like, “Oh no.” And the next day he’s like, “I’m on my way.” And we’re like, “We’re closed.”
DA: This happened two or three times.
Am: And then one time he came and he was like, “Oh no, you guys are closed?” And we’re like, “Yeah.” And then it started pouring out, and I think like, maybe forty minutes later Dominique gets another text from Questlove and it says, “I’m standing outside your awning like a crazy person and people think I’m, like, the swamp monster.”
DA: He had no umbrella and he had nowhere to go. It was really pouring like, really hard. So he couldn’t walk or go anywhere.
AM: He’s been really sweet. I think he’s just such a genuine fan of food.
On people dumpster diving for Cronuts
AM: Another thing that shocked me was when someone had sent Gothamist a tip that two girls were digging through our trash—someone sent in a picture of two girls next to the trash holding the Cronuts.
DA: They were wearing heels.
AM: They were dressed to go clubbing, looking for leftovers.
DA: Sometimes the hole in a Cronut isn’t perfect, so we don’t keep them and we throw them out.
AM: Yeah, they were holding it in their hands, and our cooks went out and said, “Please don’t do that.” And then they ran away. Somebody shot a picture of this thing happening between our cooks and them, and sent it in, too. Like, I didn’t even find out about it until the next day. When we saw the picture, we were like, “Is this for real?” And the kitchen was like, “Yes, we’ve started having to shred the cronuts.”
DA: Now, we don’t just trash them. We shred them.
On Cronut Auctions
AM: At the City Harvest auction, they auctioned off six Cronuts for $14,000.
DA: And at the James Beard foundation auction, they auctioned off 25 Cronuts for like, $20,000.
AM: It’s fun because [the highest bidders] rip it open and they eat it. Right there.
DA: After a whole dinner too, you know? It’s not like they had nothing to eat.
On being fed by the neighbors
AM: The Dutch felt sorry for us, so they gave us part of their luau because we couldn’t make it to their luau party. They brought it over for the crew to eat and for our staff.
DA: Boqueria cooked paella for our birthday. They’re great, we see them all the time, we’re good friends with them.
AM: I love being fed by the neighborhood. The neighborhood restaurants are so sweet. They feed us because they feel bad.
DA: It’s a small community. We all know each other, we’re all chefs, and they’re very supportive and always sending food over.
A sentimental moment (part II)
DA: The lady from Florida with her family who had cancer, that was a little sad…
AM: She was just diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, but had been in the clear. And eating a Cronut was on her bucket list.
DA: She came with her husband and four kids. I was in the back getting some boxes and they stopped me, her husband asked me if I could come talk to his wife. And I said, “Of course.” And she told me the story and she said it’s like a miracle for her because it was something she really wanted to do with her family, and she’s feeling better. She had a chance to come from Florida with her family to try. It’s a unique experience, a miracle she said. It was very touching.
On dressing up like Willy Wonka
AM: My favorite photo shoot they did of Dominique was when they dressed him up as Willy Wonka for The New York Post. I thought it was hilarious.
DA: That was a surprise, too.
AM: We didn’t tell him. So the people at The Post were like, “We’re going to dress him up as Willy Wonka.” And I was like, “I think that’s a fabulous idea.” And they were like, “What’s the size of his pants?” I had to go look and find the size of his pants. And then when they brought in all the wardrobe, Dominique was like, “What is that?” And it was this ginormous purple coat.
DA: They brought a makeup artist, someone just to dress me up, a reporter—I was like, “What is going on?”
AM: The kitchen team was kneeling down on the floor, singing the Oompa Loompa song. We were all so excited to see him come out because he had no idea what was going on. He was like, “What is that purple thing?” We’re like, “Oh, it’s a table cloth. Don’t worry about it.”
DA: It was a long, purple coat
AM: And a ginormous hat. So we were so excited about that all day long. He really didn’t get it, he was like “What’s going on here? Why’s everyone singing the Oompa Loompa song?”
DA: A lot of fun times. We have a wonderful team. They’re young, lots of energy, very happy and excited about all the things we do here.
On chef Daniel Boulud
DA: Daniel came during the first months of the Cronut, but we were sold out and the poor chef who had to tell him we were sold out of the Cronuts was so sad about it. He was like, “I just had to tell Daniel there was no Cronuts.” But Daniel just said, “Oh, okay I’ll come earlier next time.”
On the MoMA Rain Room selfie
Amy: The MoMa Rain Room selfie was a big highlight.
DA: Gothamist told me they reposted it a few months later. And they had an increase in traffic again.
[Did you pre-plan that whole thing?]
DA: Not at all.
AM: We had a Cronut, and we went to MoMA. They invited us to come to one of the last showings at night for the MoMA Junior Associates program, because Dominique did so many collaborations with them. And we had a Cronut that we were bringing home to taste test—we bring a Cronut home every day to taste test at the end of the day to make sure it’s still okay and not aging differently, because the weather changes so much you kind of need to keep track of it.
So then we went to MoMA, and they were like, “What is that?” We said, “It’s a Cronut.” Then they’re like, “You should take a picture of it.” We said, “Really?” And they said, “Yeah, it’s artistic.” So we said, “Okay.”
[Do you eat a cronut every day?]
DA: I do, yeah.
On Martha Stewart
AM: Martha came, she lined up—which was, like, insanely cool. She also had a big sandwich. She said, “I have really nice hens, when they lay eggs, I’ll send some over.” And we didn’t think anything of it, we were just like, “Okay.” And then one day, a driver dropped off the most perfect basket of eggs.
DA: A big bowl of just, like, this-morning-picked eggs. I took them to the back, and someone in the kitchen says, “Those eggs are beautiful, they look like a picture from a magazine.” And I said, “Well, they come from Martha Stewart.” They were delicious. We used them in the family meal for staff. We made scrambled eggs with merguez sausage.
On U.S. Government officials’ love for Cronuts
AM: We have so many people take pictures of the Cronut in their respective cities and countries, because they carried it with them all that way. Then they link it up on Instagram and show it to us. I think we had someone from D.C. yesterday in front of the Capital Building.
What was really something was when someone from the Pentagon wrote in, and there was this message before that was like, “You’re about to receive a secure message.” And you’re like, “What?” And then you press, “Okay.” Then you click on the link, and you open the attachment and it’s like, “Hey guys, I’m in the Pentagon, we wanted Cronuts.” That was very sweet, but I was a little scared like, “Should I open this?”
On the First Lady of France
AM: When the first lady of France came to the bakery, she called the president and handed the cell phone over to Dominique. She was like, “Oh, it’s the President,” and Dominique was like, “Oh my god.”
DA: I talked to him for a good five minutes. He was very proud of what I was doing in New York and in the States, and that I was upholding the traditions of the country. That was amazing. He told me that I should keep creating new things.
AM: The first Lady was so gracious. She came in and she had, like, 15 security guards and a few SUVs parked outside. And we said, “We’re so sorry but we’re sold out of Cronuts.” We didn’t know she was coming. And she said, “That’s very nice of you to offer, but I’m here to see the chef.” And she went to the back and said, “I know its very hard for you, I know you’re by yourself, but your country supports you.” They stayed for an hour and a half chatting. She wanted to find out about Dominique’s life, she knew how many siblings he had and everything.
DA: It was very funny. She was like, taking photos and texting, and then she gave a call and said, “Hey Dominique it’s for you.” She’s like, “It’s Mr. President, he wants to talk to you.”
AM: I remember at the end of the day, Dominique sat down and said, “I can’t believe I talked to the president on the phone today.” He was, like, shaking. I thought that was very sweet. Because you know, there’s so much support for him here in New York.
DA: I’m far away from home, far away from France. But people back home hear about it, they know about it, and they respect it.
A sentimental moment (part III)
DA: There was this old man that fell asleep—this was during the summer and it was really, really hot outside. He wanted to come and get Cronuts for his son.
AM: He was 89, his son was turning 61. It was his son’s birthday.
DA: And he asked us if he could cut the line and come straight in to pick it up. We said we would provide him water, and come out to check on him. And he’s sitting outside with his son next to him.
AM: Yeah, he came with his son. He’s sending us emails saying “I don’t know if I’m going to make it. I’m going to try my best to wait in line. But I’m 89.” And so, his son came with him—he was supposed to surprise his son, but I think his son found out about it. And they sent us this father-and-son collage of them waiting in line. And he said he hadn’t spent that much time with his son since the Little Leagues.
RELATED: The 9 Dishes That Made My Career: Dominique Ansel
RELATED: A Theory of Cronuts: How Hybrid Foods Have Conquered the American Mind