• October 25, 2014

'Wonuts’ the latest Chicago foodie sensation

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Posted: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 5:38 pm

For chef Alex Hernandez, there are not enough hours in the day, nor enough wonuts in the world.

To add a little buzz to the recent opening of his second Waffles Cafe in Streeterville, a neighborhood in Chicago, Hernandez formally launched the wonut — a waffle-donut combination — never suspecting that he was onto the latest breakfast-pastry sensation.

But the wonut became an international object of foodie fascination soon after the website Thrillist.com last week posted pictures of wonuts being baked, fried, glazed and adorned with frosting and sprinkles. A wonut is basically a deep-fried version of Waffles Cafe’s staple fare, tricked out, donut-style. The website Buzzfeed, purveyor of all things viral, last week devoted one of its listicles to the wonut, under the headline “The ‘Wonut’ Is Proof That A Benevolent Food God Exists.’”

“It just exploded from there,” Hernandez said April 28, as he neared the end of a 15-hour shift that began at 5 a.m.

He has been so swamped, he barely had time to speak to reporters calling from as far away as London and Japan. He also has fielded queries about “franchising” the wonut to bakeries outside Chicago.

The phenomenon seems similar to the craze last year that developed around the half-croissant, half-donut “cronut” that debuted at a New York bakery.

Demand for the wonut has far outstripped his 12-dozen wonuts per day at the two Waffles Cafe locations, a phenomenon that has taken Hernandez by surprise.

He had been fine-tuning his recipes at his original location in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood as far back as February: red velvet with sour cream icing; Mexican chocolate; green tea with pistachios; tiramisu; gluten-free cinnamon and sugar; vegan maple-glazed; and s’mores.

At the time, Hernandez was waffling on a name, calling them first “waffle donuts,” then leaning toward the doffle. He initially eschewed the catchier wonut name because he feared comparisons to the cronut.

By any name, the wonuts sold well. Tuesday’s stock of wonuts sold out at both locations within 15 minutes. Wonuts cost $2.25 each, though last week, a man from Tennessee arrived after the day’s supply had sold out, and offered Hernandez $100 to whip up another batch. Hernandez said he declined the $100, but made an extra batch.

“We’re looking at adding staff,” Hernandez said, adding that as a show of gratitude — and if he can recruit a few extra pastry chefs on at least a temporary basis — he will up production and risk blowing up the Internet with a $1 wonut special.

Surgeon Omar Al-Nouri made a special trip in search of wonuts and missed out. But he returned the next night and was able to secure four wonuts from a batch Hernandez started for evening customers.

Taking a bite of a still-warm Mexican chocolate wonut, Al-Nouri nodded.

“It’s not as heavy as I thought it would be,” he said, chewing. “It’s just good.”

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