Monday, July 14, 2008

Krispy Kreme Kraze Koming to a Klose

On 15 December 2006, Krispy Kreme, the U.S. doughnut chain, opened its first Japanese store a couple of hundred yards from the south exit of the JR Shinku Station and became an instant smash hit. For over a year, day and night, in every clime and weather, the line of customers would fold back and forth on the storefront patio originally intended for outdoor tables and chairs, then snake halfway or more across a conveniently adjacent land bridge that spans the twenty or so sets of JR railroad tracks. The waiting time at the end of the line would be somewhere between 75 minutes and 115 minutes. The figure would be posted on signboards like a Disneyland ride, one freestanding and another carried by one of a pair of Krispy Kreme ushers, and dutifully updated.

No one waits well over an hour just to grab a doughnut and a cup of joe or to use the bathroom. (Besides, unlike Manhattan, where residents routinely commit to memory the location of every Starbucks and Barnes and Noble, Shinjuku, indeed much of Metropolitan Tokyo, is stocked with publicly accessible toilets, as long as you do not look and smell like a homeless derelict, who have to make do with the less-well-maintained, truly public toilets in the parks.) Instead, they would purchase at least one large box-full, often more, to later share with family and friends.

The wave has crested. In recent weeks, the waiting line has shrunk back to the Krispy Kreme patio, and the signboards are posting 25-, 35-minute waits. The now lone usher no longer needs to carry toteboards. As early as this spring, the waiting time had begun dipping near the one-hour threshold. Still, it’s only recently that the land bridge has reverted completely to the public domain. It was a great run while it lasted. And most customers still carry away large boxes, each containing a dozen or so of the delectable hydrocarbon macro-rings.

I have never seen a food fad of this scale in my lifetime, and I do not expect to see such a one again. The year-long streak of hour-and-a-half waiting lines is a feat never to be repeated, like Ted Williams hitting 400 for the season, or Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 points in a game. Thus, it deserves to be recorded, on this, the blog of record.

9 comments:

Derek said...

I don't know - the lines for Cinnabon circa 1998 were quite prodigious for a similar period.

Janne Morén said...

The waiting time may well be unprecedented for something lasting this long. But there's plenty of smaller outfits that seem to attract a permanent waiting line for years and years, for similarly non-obvious reasons.

On Doutonbori in south Osaka, there's several takoyaki vendors, all selling very similar (delicious) takoyaki. One of them - and only one - always has a long waiting line, while the nearby vendors have a short line or none at all. I've eaten that takoyaki, and while it is very good, it's not actually any better (or appreciably different) from the other vendors' along the street.

I guess there's three reasons - three ways of seeing the line - that keeps it alive:

The basic thinking goes: there's always a line, so it must be better than the other ones, so we want to buy here - thereby extending he line.

The second-line reasoning is: it's obviously good since you have to wait for half an hour. So to impress my date/my significant other/my beloved pet chihuahua, I will endure this waiting time in a obvious show of my dedication to give him/her/it the best I can.

The last movitation (and one I've seen expressed in an interview with a line-waiter): Hey, here's a line! Lots of people standing together, waiting for a common goal, expecting a treat! Let's join!! It doesn't matter what the product is, and they may well skip out on the actual buying altogether - it's the waiting itself that' fun for these weirdo's^H^H^H^H^Hinteresting people.

Jun Okumura said...

Derek:
Maybe, then again, maybe not. A Japanese blogger recalls the early days of Cinnabon Kichijoji. To quote:

吉祥寺に日本で初めて出来たとき家族3人でわざわざ吉祥寺まで行って30分位並んで食べましたっけ。
When the first [Cinnabon shop] in Japan opened in Kichijoji, I think our family, the three of us, went to the trouble of going all the way to Kichijoji and waited in line for about thirty minutes to eat them.


Half an hour—impressive, but not quite peak hours at Space Mountain either. Let’s call Cinnabon the Bobby Mercer of fast food sweets.

Janne:

Yours takes a little more time. Let me put you on hold.

Christopher said...

I actually used to live about a 5 minute walk from the Shinjuku Krispy Kreme. I didn't think the wait was too odd, because back when I lived in Seattle and the first Krispy Kreme opened in Issaquah (which is, I think, 20 miles east of Seattle), they had a 30 minute wait. There are supposedly more people going through Shinjuku station every day than live in the entire Seattle area, so I figured the waiting time was appropriate.

There was no sign giving the waiting time at the Issaquah Krispy Kreme but I knew because I actually waited in line to get the donuts. Plus I didn't have a car, and it took a 30-minute bus ride plus another hour walk to get there. But it was worth it... since leaving Chicago I had gone years without tasting Krispy Kreme.

Jun Okumura said...

Touché, Christopher. On the other hand, there must be many, many more places to go in Shinjuku than in all of Seattle...

I agree, Krispy Kreme doughnuts are good. I expect them to outlive the Cinnabon. But not 90-minutes good. 5-10 minutes, maybe.

Christopher said...

Yeah, Shinjuku even has many many more places to get good donuts than all of Seattle. So while Krispy Kreme is better than Mister Donut, it's not better by enough that I ever bothered waiting in line for it rather than just going to Mister Donut.

Jun Okumura said...

Yeah, I agree, Chris. Mister Donut ain’t bad, but in Shinjuki, I don’t think I could wait five minutes.

Incidentally, I associate Mister Donut—hell, doughnuts, period—with crime novels, but here, it’s mainly young families and chicks. U.S. fast food chains generally become more upscale when they come to Japan. It works the other way around too. The typical fare at taishu shokudo—the Japanese version of the North American diner, as Chris needs no reminder—such as tonkatsu and udon as well as fast food such as gyudon (grilled beef and onion on rice) are more expensive in the U.S.

Janne Morén said...

Saw a short article on one of the first Ramen restaurants in New York. A bowl cost easily 2-3 times what it'd do in Japan. The accompanying picture showed a subdued, austere environment appropriate for kaiseki perhaps, or a tea ceremony. I got the impression the patrons were complementing the chef for his soup base bouquet.

It most definitely works both ways.

Jun Okumura said...

“2-3 times what it'd do in Japan”? That’s outrageous. For that kind of money, you deserve the Snapping Turtle Ramen, at 3,000 Yen. And for the true ramen gourmet, there’s the Ichiman En no Ramen, literally, “The Ramen that Costs Ten Thousand Yen”. (Scroll down, past the Frog Ramen (800 Yen) pictures.)