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Viral Food Sensations: Where Are They Now?

By Nicole Levy | February 15, 2016 1:53pm
 Viral foods of all stripes and colors
Viral foods of all stripes and colors
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This winter, the draw of elaborately bedecked milkshakes at Black Tap Burgers & Beer in SoHo and rainbow bagels stuffed with sprinkle-cake cream cheese at The Bagel Store in Williamsburg kept us queuing for a special, Internet-famous treat.

The parade of novelty foods seems to advance ad infinitum in New York. Each one aspires to match and surpass the benchmark set by the Cronut, that half-croissant, half-donut pastry hundreds have lusted for since 2013.

But what happens to these publicity-grabbing eats after the initial Internet buzz dies down? 

"Hyped foods go through peaks and valleys that can last years," said Sarah Zorn, food editor for Brooklyn magazine and author of The Brooklyn Chef's Table Cookbook. 

We checked in on three viral food sensations from the last few years, to see what lessons they can offer the "Cronuts" of the future.

People still line up for Cronuts — but not as early as they used to. 

Multiple sources tell DNAinfo that the lines outside Dominique Ansel Bakery start at around 60 people around 8 a.m. each morning. They grow to as many as 120 on weekends and holidays during the warmer months. 

The queues don't form as early as they did the first year Cronuts were sold. 

"[The line] used to start as early as 5 a.m. the first year, and we were waiting three hours," said Robert Samuel, a "professional line sitter" and founder of Same Ole Line Dudes. He charges clients for the time he spends waiting for the croissant-donut hybrids he delivers to their door, at a rate of $25 for the first hour, and $10 for each subsequent half hour.


7:56am 43° clear with 87 ppl in line @dominiqueansel for the legendary #cronut #nyc ❤️ #cronuts

A photo posted by Same Ole Line Dudes, LLC (@sold_inc) on

Sales of Cronuts and ramen burgers didn't peak the year they were introduced because demand far exceeded supply.

The day the Cronut launched, May 10, 2013, Ansel's bakery made and sold a mere 30 to 40 pastries, according to a company spokesperson.

Space limitations capped the business's Cronut production for the next two years, but in April 2015, Ansel opened a restaurant in the West Village with a kitchen big enough to up Cronut production to several hundred a day. They are still sold exclusively at the SoHo bakery on Spring Street.

Over at the outdoor Williamsburg food market Smorgasburg, Keizo Shimamoto couldn't supply enough ramen burgers to meet demand when he introduced the meat patties sandwiched between two buns of compressed ramen noodles in August 2013.

"We would only make 500 a day, and then sell out at 1 or 2 p.m.," he said.

By the middle of summer 2014, Shimamoto and his team could prepare enough of their distinctive buns to sell 1000 burgers in one day, and in 2015, he secured a commercial kitchen in Long Island City to do prep work ahead of the weekend.

► But the trajectory after viral fame doesn't trend steadily upward for everyone.

"There were times when we first started when the line was probably over 300 people long," Shimamoto recalled of his stall's early days in 2013.

"I don’t think many businesses are prepared for that," he said.

Since then, wait times have dwindled to the point that a customer joining a line 50-people deep can anticipate their burger in 15 to 20 minutes, the ramen chef said.

The experience of waiting in line is key to a culinary craze's success, Samuel said: "The minute [a food] becomes Instagram famous ... you can expect a line. As a business, you need to have orderly lines, because that’s something that turns people off."

The lines for ramen burgers at Berg'n, a beer hall run by the same organizers as Smorgasburg, never made Shimamoto much profit, so he ceded his stall there to a Vietnamese food vendor

"I think there’s just not enough people coming there," he said, offering an explanation for his lackluster sales and disappointing demand for his product.

(Asked for comment on the subject, Berg'n did not respond by press time.)

The creators of Cronuts and pizza-topped pizza aren't resting on their laurels. They keep on innovating with other products.

Eight months after the image of its pizza-topped pizza nearly broke the internet, Williamsburg slice shop Vinnie's Pizzeria continues to sell its "pizzeption" (as one Redditor christened it) for $4.50 a slice and $25 for a large pie. 

The beloved creation of co-owner Sean Berthiaume still drives traffic to his Bedford Avenue business, but it's "tapered down a bit since the original explosion we had the first few weeks," fellow owner Jacob Petrera told us. 

"Honestly as delicious as the 'mini Vinnie' is, we have more than 40 different slices and some are even crazier and as inventive," he added, pointing to the black bean-avocado and mac-and-cheese with bacon slices as two of the pizzeria's best sellers. 

"The 'mini Vinnie' just helped put us on the map!" Petrera said.

The same can be said of Dominique Ansel's reputation as an innovator. (Time and time again, he's proven he has more than one trick up his sleeve, introducing the world to the "chocolate chip cookie milk shot" — a shot's worth of vanilla-infused milk served in a cookie vessel — in 2014.) 

Some observers argue that his success with the blockbuster pastry spurred the opening of his West Village restaurant, a made-to-order bakery with a frequently rotating menu.  

Ansel doesn't get caught up stewing over myriad Cronut copycats, like Dunkin' Donuts' croissant donut, because "a lot of chefs are out there doing great things that are innovative and unique and they are far more exciting than imitators," he said in a written comment.

His motto, one often quoted and worth keeping in mind: "Don’t let the creation kill the creativity."