By Leila Molana-Allen
CHELSEA — The owner of Chinatown's wildly successful Doughnut Plant has opened his long-awaited second New York City store on the ground floor of the Chelsea hotel.
A steady stream of customers entered the new eatery throughout the early afternoon, and there were never fewer than thirty people inside the 21-seat shop. Owner Mark Israel, 47, said he chose Valentine's Day for the grand opening because it's his father's 80th birthday.
The opening was so successful that Israel nearly ran out of donuts. At 1 p.m., there were only three donuts were left to sell in the shop. Minutes later, the fourth shipment of the day from the Grand Street store arrived to applause.
The cafe offered two Valentine's Day specials: the rose donut, topped with real rose petals, and a passion fruit-glazed donut. Israel also created three new cake donuts for the opening, based on popular cookies: salted peanut, chocolate chip and oatmeal.
"I'm so excited. I usually go to the other one, I've been waiting for this," said actor and producer Ari Rossen, who organized a special lunch date with a friend to visit the new store on opening day. "This is my Valentine's Day. When you're single in New York City, it's all just about you and the donuts. They're protein-packed and all natural, so they're good for you. That's what you tell yourself."
Israel says he spent five years looking for the right location for his second shop, and finally settled on the Chelsea Hotel because he liked the history of the nineteenth-century building. The location has been in development for over 18 months, with Israel focusing on every detail of the decor in an attempt to fuse the space's original style with his particular brand of donut chic.
The shop's design is reflective of its owner's eclectic personality. The store is very minimalist in style, with largely bare walls— the wrought iron cage which surrounds the serving booth and the staff inside it is the shop's centerpiece.
Israel had the floral iron detailing on the counter and the light fittings especially cast from the balconies on the hotel's facade, which were made in 1884. The slabs of black glass on the shop's front entrance had to be individually sourced from different old buildings around the city, Israel said.
In stark contrast to these antique elements is the vivid donut theme superimposed onto the rest of the store's interior. The benches are inlaid with rows of brightly-colored, donut-shaped tiles made by Israel's father Marvin, and patchwork donut cushions of various designs, created by dressmaker Mary Adams hang on the walls.
The restroom is the highlight: Israel, who worked as a busboy at Studio 54 when he was 18, has covered the room in mirrored tiles from ceiling to floor, so that the disco ball hanging from the ceiling creates a constant light show.
Israel's business began when, having failed to make it as a model and actor after moving to New York, he and his father found his grandfather Herman's donut recipe and decided to try it out. When he got back to New York, Israel contacted Eureka Joe's coffee shop and asked if they would try his donuts. "An hour later, he had a standing order," said his father Marvin, who was at the shoo Monday. "If that guy had said no, this would probably never have happened."
For the next five years, Israel ran his business out of the basement of a tenement building, cooking all night and delivering his donuts on his bicycle in the morning. He was soon selling wholesale to vendors such as Dean and Deluca's and Balducci's, and in 2000 opened his first donut Plant on Grand Street.
Hareka Das, 41, has worked at the Grand Street outlet for nine years. "It's the best job ever. The donut Plant doesn't just make any donut — we only make top of the line donuts. The best donuts in the world, I tell you."
Sally Menkes, 81, who had a cinnamon bun because there were not many donuts left when she arrived, said she'd been waiting for ages for the shop to open.
"I'll be back, but only for the coffee. I have to watch my diet!" Menkes said.
While the Grand Street store used to be closed on Mondays, Israel opened it Monday to coincide with the Chelsea opening, and says the original store has been full of customers all day too. He now plans to extend opening hours, and keep both stores open seven days a week.