Cronut imitators in NYC: ChikaLicious and Mille-feuille Bakery’s croissant-doughnut hybrids endure

Five years after its debut at the Dominique Ansel Bakery in SoHo, that hybrid pastry sensation known as the Cronut is proving all the trend forecasters wrong.

The doughnut-croissant mashup invented by pastry chef Dominique Ansel and rapidly duplicated by bakers around the world in 2013 continues to draw long lines and sell out daily. Flavors — like April’s rhubarb rose mascarpone and May’s strawberry fior di latte — rotate on a monthly basis, warding off staleness.

The prospects were never as rosy for imitators in the Cronut’s hometown; few have outlived the fad years. Gregorys Coffee phased out its croissant doughnut in 2014 “as the demand just wasn’t there after the craze faded,” says Gary Barnes, a spokesman for the New York City-based coffee roaster and retailer. That same year, Fort Greene’s Le Petit Bakery and its square Cronut copycats, Squats, bid Brooklyn adieu. In 2017, Crumbnut maker Crumbs Bakery shuttered all its New York City stores.

But survivors in a contracted market are seeing as much demand as ever for doughnuts with flaky layers, they say.

Last month's Cronut features a mascarpone ganache and rhubarb rose fondant.
Last month’s Cronut features a mascarpone ganache and rhubarb rose fondant. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

At ChikaLicious, a tiny bakery and dessert bar in the East Village, Cronut-like Dough’Ssants have been a “huge seller since their introduction,” says co-owner Don Tillman. “There’s really no slowing down.”

Tillman, 40, and his wife, Chika (“She’s the chef, I’m the dishwasher,” he jokes), sell more than 500 Dough’Ssants a day, he says.

The $5 treats are made on the premises at 10th Street near Second Avenue, and they’re baked, rather than deep-fried.

That makes the Dough’Ssant “a little bit lighter … and easier to go down” than the Cronut, Tillman says.

The couple spent six weeks re-engineering and tweaking the Cronut recipe, after a Japanese tourist brought news of Ansel’s creation to their shop in November 2013. (The chef is highly protective of the Cronut name, trademarking it, but he otherwise considers variations on his signature pastry as a “a very big compliment,” he said in an interview with amNewYork.)

Over the intervening years, ChikaLicious, which is also known for its churro ice cream cones, has introduced more than 20 flavors, settled on three “that people really love”: plain, creme brulee and nutella.

The Dough’Ssant’s staying power has surprised Tillman: “Most things in pastry, if it’s not an apple pie, cheesecake, then it’s a fad, as far as I’m concerned. You would expect it to die down.”

Simplicity is the key to cultivating loyal customers, in his opinion.

“I think the simpler you keep it, though the more of a craving customers will develop for it, so … we don’t do any funky flavors or anything like that, no hibiscus or chamomile…,” he says.

Olivier Dessyn, 45, executive chef and owner of Mille-feuille Bakery in Greenwich Village and the Upper West Side, takes a similar approach with his French doughnut.

When Dessyn first introduced the Cronut knockoff he recreated from photos of the original — only a few blocks away from the Dominique Ansel Bakery and a few weeks after the hybrid pastry’s big debut — he experimented with different flavors and fillings.

These days, he keeps things uncomplicated: no fillings, and either plain or with a chocolate glaze.

The Paris-trained pastry chef even tried to remove the croissant-doughnut from the menu for a few days a week in 2016 — to save his staff the extra work of deep-frying the dough at their Williamsburg commissary — but customers complained, “so we put it back seven days a week,” Dessyn recalls.

He’s happy to meet demand, selling roughly 100 French doughnuts for $5 a pop each day, but he never expected the pastry to survive beyond its first birthday.

As for the confection’s future, he won’t be making any bets: “I don’t know how long it’s going to last.”