It’s 7:30 a.m. at the Grove and it should be a Fairfax ghost town, but there are people waiting in a huge line, and it has nothing to do with a new iPhone release. Some folks are curled up in folding chairs, while others stand huddled sipping Coffee Bean, heroically braving low-60-degree weather. Many are playfully wearing sleeping masks, featuring small croissants and the phrase “Dreaming of Pastries,” on their foreheads or around their necks; one patient soul has chosen to rock the mask correctly, blacking out the scene, resting until it’s go time. A DJ begins playing Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” as the line grows to more than 50 people. Smiling employees dressed in bow ties and suspenders offer complimentary shots of hot chocolate and warm, sugar-dusted mini Madeleines as the line continues to grow. This isn’t the strangest sneaker release in the history of Nike, or a Black Friday Nordstrom sale, and no one has waited in a line this long for the Cheesecake Factory since 1996. This is different. This is something else. This is Dominique Ansel landing in Los Angeles.
The famous pastry chef is a hour away from opening his much-anticipated bakery — serving the celebrated Cronut, a croissant-doughnut hybrid — in L.A.’s most celebrated mall, and as Dave Chappelle–as–Rick James once said, it’s a celebration. There are three separate lines of 100 soon-to-be pastry-popping patrons, and the third line continues to stretch under a newly installed Santa Claus with his reindeer-powered sled in the sky. The DJ hits play on “I’ll Stop The World and Melt With You” and the line extends toward the Grove’s 100-foot Christmas tree as the surrounding stores across the mall’s empty trolley tracks begin setting up shop. Ansel has already opened a restaurant upstairs from the bakery, 189 by Dominique Ansel, which began brunch service a week ago, with plans for dinner service this weekend.
But today and possibly every day to come for the rest of our L.A. lives will be about the 2,700-square-foot downstairs space where the bakery is located — where this month’s Cronut (we’re capitalizing it because it’s trademarked by Ansel), a white peach Amaretto with muscovado ganache, and the signature frozen s’mores and chocolate chip cookie shot filled with Tahitian vanilla milk have found a new Beverly Grove home. And like every one of the James Beard Award winner’s bakeries, the Los Angeles outlet will sell one-of-a-kind treats, such as the California Roll, a chilled olive oil biscuit cube with avocado and vanilla lime mousse with honey gelee; and the Ruby Tart, which sports approximately 75 hand-placed pomegranate seeds on a lychee ganache that reminds its Parisian creator (who was recently named Best Pastry Chef 2017 by World’s 50 Best Restaurants) of Dorothy’s ruby red slippers.
When Dominique Ansel Tokyo opened five years ago, the first customer got into line at 8 p.m. the night before. Today, the first sweet-toothed fiend stepped into position at 5 a.m., a time of day when every other neighboring business was employee-less, when even the Grove’s water fountains were too tired to dance. And now everyone’s ready to eat and Ansel and his team, who haven’t slept in a week, high on nerves and caffeine and finish-line-in-sight euphoria, are handing out surprises, like one inspired by the team’s wonderment with L.A.’s car culture: custom-made air fresheners to hang in vehicles, scented like Ansel’s chocolate chip cookie shot. “Is this real?” someone asks in awe, sniffing away. Now multiple people are being interviewed by NBC and KCAL news reporters, and dudes in Yeezy’s and Off-White sneakers are dancing and feeling good in line next to a man in medical scrubs. I’m feeling bad for Sprinkles and Ladurée and any other Grove business in the dessert game. The king has arrived. It’s time to bend the knee.
We’re minutes away from doors opening as reality hits, as the understanding crystallizes that we’ll soon be sinking incisors into pastries that fanatics have dug through Soho trash cans for in the past. As two dozen white roses are delivered, sent with love from Ansel’s New York agent, the chef steps outside as the chipper PR team motions for the DJ to hit pause on a Motown track. Ansel thanks his team and welcomes the crowd, calling L.A. “a new home far away from home.” The newest chef in the greatest food city in the world takes multiple crowd selfies — selfies that have become such a constant in the artist’s life that they’ve been termed “Anselfies” — and the bakery doors swing open. It’s time.
Inside, Heavy D’s “Now That We’ve Found Love” makes sense as it bursts forth from the speakers. L.A.’s favorite home-grown pastry genius Nicole Rucker is a VIP, handed a glistening kouign amann and cup of coffee on the house, but otherwise it’s all about the customers. Almost everyone stops to hug Ansel and take another Anselfie and thank him. And we should all thank him. I was lucky enough to score a Cronut and a toasted chocolate coconut croissant, and I’ll be back soon for a cookie shot and next month’s strawberry butter with cinnamon spice ganache Cronut. When you see this gentle genius of a newcomer anywhere around town over the coming weeks, months and years, you’re going to want to thank him. But maybe not a selfie every time.
By Jordan Okun