Chatting with Mark Israel of Doughnut Plant About the Chelsea Hotel, the Cupcake Craze, and Eating his Vegetables
Earlier this week, news broke that, after 15 years in business and 10 years at a Grand Street storefront, Mark Israel of Doughnut Plant is finally opening his second New York location, in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel. Fork in the Road caught up with Israel (or rather, caught him, elbow-deep in batter) to discuss his vision for the new space, and to look back on the past decade-and-a-half of making the doughnuts.
It's time to make the doughnuts... in Chelsea.
Congratulations on the new location. What took you so long to open a second space?
(Laughs.) I wanted someplace that I really liked. There are so many places you walk right by. They have no character. But when I saw this space, I liked it right away. It's a landmark building. I appreciate the history of the hotel.
How will it differ from the original?
The new place will have tables and chairs, places to sit down, which we don't have [on Grand Street]. It will be more of a retail location. It's three times bigger than the original. Chelsea Hotel will be much more about atmosphere and environment. It will definitely not be a cookie cutter copy of the place on Grand Street. It's a totally different look. I was thinking of the kind of place I'd like to hang out in and eat doughnuts.
Are you planning any new doughnuts for the new location?
Yeah, but right now I'm focusing on opening. You know, you have to deal with the construction and design. It's a very big undertaking. I'm doing the whole thing myself. I'm designing the space -- I love that part. At Grand Street, I did construction, actual hammering. I even designed the logo. But, yeah, I've got some new things I'm working on. I'm always doing new stuff.
How do you come up with new ideas?
Oh, you know. You think about the things you like to eat. Then, it's just like a sculptor standing in front of a slab of marble. You use your creativity.
What's your favorite doughnut of the moment?
The Creme Brulee. It's awesome.
You have 27 locations, stores in Korea and Japan. What kind of advice do you have for aspiring empire builders?
You know, I started my business from my bicycle. Japan and Korea, they happened because people approached me. Someone from Canada approached me. But, with investors, they have to have the commitment to see it through. With Chelsea Hotel, I had no investors. It was all me. I had a vision for what I wanted to do.
You've lived through the Atkins diet fad and the cupcake craze. Was there ever a really tough time for selling doughnuts?
Just 9/11. But it was tough for everyone. We've never done any advertising. It's all been word of mouth.
Are there any dessert crazes you're sick of?
(Laughs.) No, not really. I don't know much about trends. As long as people are doing their own thing, it's cool. I just focus on what I'm doing. I never copy anyone.
What are some of your favorite places to eat in the city?
Oh, I don't know. I don't go out much. There's a lady on Grand and Chrystie who sells those things -- I don't even know what they're called -- steamed rice-stuffed bamboo leaves. I tend to eat really simple. I cook simple. A lot of my meals are staff meals at Doughnut Plant. It's nice to cook for a bunch of people.
What do you have in your fridge at home?
I'm a vegetarian so I eat simple. At Doughnut Plant, we don't use any lard or animal products in anything. And, at home... I just go to the farmers market at Union Square and buy a bunch of vegetables and cook them.
How healthy. Especially for a guy who trades in deep-fried dough.
(Laughs again.) Yeah, I guess.