We spoke too soon: New Yorkers are still lining up for two hours at a time at the Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho to get their hands on the much-hyped hybrid pastry known as the cronut. The only difference now, according to The New York Post, is that a substantial number (if not the majority) of the individuals queuing up on Spring Street at 6 a.m. are being paid by other city dwellers who don't want to get out of bed before the sun rises. And, yes, the cronut capitalists — "industrious entrepreneurs who see plenty of dough to be made," as the Post describes them — have moved on to this line straight from another one: the unemployment line.
Now, paid-off line waiters are a well-known cohort on the steps of the Supreme Court and around Apple stores in China, and we already told you about the Craigslist black market for cronuts, but these pastry-line workers make arrangements to wait for hours, purchase a maximum of two cronuts, and finally deliver the croissant-donut creations to the highest bidder. While cronuts are currently going for around $50 per pastry (up from $20-$40 on Craiglist a month ago), the individuals waiting in line aren't quite yet making bank. The Post spoke to one line-waiter named Tawny, who was recently laid off and now keeps up with the bills by waiting on line for up to three hours and delivering, after paying for their own transportation, the donut-croissant mash-ups (she charges $70 for two, $80 for two to Brooklyn):
“We made 80 bucks today — that’s about $12 an hour,” she says.
Then her friend Janet corrects her: “Um, that’s $6 each.”
But with a daunting $1,200 rent to pay for her Gramercy Park pad, any extra cash helps.
We're not sure which is more unpleasant: the idea of spending $50 on a pastry that costs $5, or waiting in line for $6 an hour on behalf of someone you met on Craigslist. Then again, the circumstances surrounding the cronut's production more or less determined this would happen.
While the cronut black market has often been compared to ticket scalping, the cronut itself, and the means of its production, complicate the story. For one, the cronut must be consumed within six hours, severely limiting the arbitrage capability of line-waiters. They have to sell cronuts immediately, which encourages prior arrangements, like this dedicated cronut-reselling website that charges $5,000 for 20 cronuts delivered anywhere in Manhattan. (Seriously: $250 per cronut.) Two, the Dominique Ansel Bakery bakes only 250 cronuts every 24 hours. At the height of the Magnolia Bakery hysteria, by contrast, the West Village shop sold 3,000 cupcakes per day. You might have had to stew a few hours on a sidewalk, but you were probably going to get a cupcake eventually. Not so with the cronut:
It is not okay to flip off our baristas because we are out of cronuts. Wtf!— Dominique Ansel (@DominiqueAnsel) May 15, 2013
The consequences are obvious: at some point, only those who can pay off strangers to arrive at 3 a.m. (or thereabouts) will be able to eat a cronut. For a bakery whose owner is afraid of selling out, it seems kind of problematic when only the well-off can afford to eat your $5 pastry.
The cronut black market might be coming to an end, however. Ansel, the creator of the cronut, appears to be catching on to repeat scalpers, and has been collecting tips from customers who notice groups of people planning to deliver their cronut stash elsewhere. On Monday he told Today: "I open the door for everyone every morning at 8 a.m. And I say 'hell' to all my customers. It's only a matter a time before something seems kind of shady." More practically, the bakery has limited sales of cronuts to 2 per customer, down from 3 just a few weeks ago, and 6 at the cronut's debut. Plus, you can now pre-order cronuts, but — much like Momofuku Ko's maddening reservation system — you have to reserve them at a specific time. If you succeed, you have to wait two weeks for orders of 6, and at least a month for orders over 50.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.