Now that most of us have broken our resolutions it's time to check out Flex Donuts, which is located in the dining level of Grand Central Station. Besides running Flex Donuts, Zac Young is the pastry chef at both locations of Flex Mussels. I caught up with him to find out how he makes it all work.
JZ: How did Flex Donuts start?
ZY: Flex Donuts started at Flex Mussels on 82nd Street. On the original menu I had freshly made wild blueberry-filled donuts. The donuts became the best selling dessert. At Flex Mussels you can get over twenty different preparations of mussels so as a joke I put 12 different varieties of donuts on the menu. The restaurant became known for mussels and donuts. It's a kind of weird combination but somehow it works. So, Bobby Shapiro the owner and I had been talking about doing something with the donuts because they were so popular. We were toying with ideas about opening a shop or a donut truck. We really wanted to see how and if it would work. We were lucky enough that Bobby owns Zocalo in Grand Central. So we decided to do a pop-up there and see what happens. We did the first pop-up last winter for 2 weeks and we sold out within an hour everyday. It was a mob scene everyday. When we decided to do it again this year we wanted it to be bigger but also more organized. We went from just having filled donuts to now offering cake donuts and bacon bourbon crullers. It all started with one wild blueberry donut.
JZ: How has the role of a pastry chef changed? Is it much more important now for a pastry chef to have their own operation?
ZY: You know it's hard. You are always the first department to get cut and it's always a fight to get more equipment and space. You are the last course and sometimes it feels like you are the last thought especially because desserts are not usually the most profitable part of a restaurant.
JZ: So many pastry chefs are leaving restaurants these days and opening their own shops.
ZY: I'm not speaking about anyone's specific situation but there comes a point where you are at the top of your game and you are still competing with the executive chef and still working for someone else. Pastry chefs are usually very detail oriented and it seems natural that eventually they want to be out on their own.
JZ: Do you want to open your own bakery?
ZY: In my dream world I would love to own one fantastic bakery but that's not how you can make money. The market is really scary right now. Opening a business is very expensive.
JZ: That's why pop-ups are better.
ZY: Yes especially with donuts. When you are selling donuts for $2.00 you need to sell a lot of donuts to pay for a fryer. That's the scary thing about opening up a bakeshop as opposed to a restaurant.
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