Small Businesses Rush to Find Next Big Thing on Back of Cronut Craze

By Heidi Patalano on October 14, 2013 6:53am 

WEST VILLAGE — Most New Yorkers have had it up to here with the Cronut glut.

But with ramen burgers following the croissant-donut hybrid as a nationally trending food, more and more producers are hunting for the next big thing to feed consumers.

"You do want that innovation because you’ve got an educated population," Kathrine Gregory, founder and director of Long Island City small business incubator Mi Kitchen Es Su Kitchen, which offers space to entrepreneurs looking to develop edible products and start storefront locations.

With about 170 clients under contract at the facility, Gregory regularly witnesses small business owners striving to create something unique that will help them stand out from the pack.

"I often tell our clients when they come in and they’re starting their business that they have to walk the aisles of Whole Foods and see who their competitors are and then understand what makes them different from the person who is already on the shelf," she said.

Stand-out products pay dividends. Since Dominique Ansel launched the croissant-donut hybrid in his SoHo bakery back in May of this year, dozens of imitators have sprung up in the city. Bi-coastal chain Crumbs is attempting to bring the item to a mass market and imitators are found in Tokyo and London.

Ansel famously trademarked the name Cronut, so copycats have been forced to concoct any number of spinoff names for the pastry. When a fashion week party was said to have been stocked with Cronuts, Ansel quickly clarified that they were pastries that did not come from his bakery.

Being a copycat sometimes pays off, as Cronut imitations have done well for competitors’ coffers. After DNAinfo New York featured Le Petit Bakery's square-shaped “squats,” the Greenpoint shop now regularly sells 80 to 90 of the pastries on a weekday and around 200 on a weekend day.

“We’re not in Times Square where it’s constant foot traffic,” owner Christopher Sanchez explained. “We’re a destination bakery at this point … For the foodies, the people who are looking for that new item, this is a bit of a trip, but they’re not worse for wear."

Slideshow
 Following the success of the Cronut, other businesses feel compelled to produce innovative products in the hopes that they'll go viral.
Cronuts at Dominique Ansel
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Sanchez said he continues to innovate in the hopes of coming up with a concoction as explosively popular as the Cronut.

Considering the media saturation point on the Cronut, some shrewd entrepreneurs have moved beyond it, hoping to craft the next tasty treat that will take pop culture by storm.

Nick and Elyse Oleksak, co-founders of Bantam Bagels, had been working on their filling-stuffed bagel bites, called Bantams, long before Cronuts hit New York. But the moment their product launched at the beginning of September, tastemakers hooked into their potential to go viral.

After a full-page feature story on the Oleksaks was published in The Wall Street Journal, Fox, Pix 11 and ABC Eyewitness News came calling. Soon after, national programs “The Today Show” and “The Chew” wanted to feature the bready cream-cheese nuggets. Articles appeared on Gothamist, FoodBeast and Yahoo! all linking the Bantam to the Cronut in their headlines.

“Being in the same sentence as Cronuts has given us a cool factor that we maybe couldn’t have created on our own,” Elyse Oleksak said. “It helps to build more hype and it makes people say ‘Oh my God, I have to try that.’”

Only four weeks after opening their Bleecker Street store, the Oleksaks are planning to offer nationwide shipping of their product in order to meet with customer demand.

Meanwhile, Lamia Jacobs, owner of Sugar and Plumm, hopes that her import of the traditional Danish pastry the ebelskiver will be embraced with equal passion.

“I thought, 'You have the donuts. You have the bagels. You have sandwiches.' This is very different,” Jacobs said of the pastry, which is a spherical pancake filled with sweet or savory items much in the same way a crepe is prepared.

“This is America. Everybody’s always looking for something trendy. They love it. Everybody goes crazy and the next month someone invents something else,” she said. “I’m hoping that when people taste [the ebelskiver], they will really love it and it will catch on.”

Jacobs's Sugar and Plumm has two locations — one in the Upper West Side and one in the West Village. At the moment, ebelskivers are only offered in the West Village location, just one block down Bleecker Street from Bantam Bagels and a few blocks from Dominique Ansel Bakery.

"In the boom years, we had people learning to eat worms and bugs — you name it — with chili pepper on top of everything," said Gregory. "People had the money to spend on this so they did it. And now, they’re not about to give it up, so they are constantly looking for new and different tastes."

As for how and why the cronut craze ever happened, Ansel himself has no answers. But he prefers to think of his products as works of art as opposed to Internet click-bait.

"I think innovation is a lifestyle and not just a business strategy," he told DNAinfo New York. "People who innovate don't ever think they 'need' to. They 'want' to ... To be honest, I didn't even know foods could go 'viral.' And no, I haven't tried the Ramen Burger yet. Sounds fun!"

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