Saturday, September 8, 2007

Krispy Kreme Shinjuku Sensation: August 11, 2007

Here it is, Japan's first Krispy Kreme store, located behind Shinjuku Station. It's on a great concrete plaza, and on this particular day it rested under a blue sky, the summer broiling us all at an even rate until we were done on one side, but for some reason not flipping us over to cook us on the other. That's how it felt the day I finally fulfilled the dream of half a year and found the damn place. Tokyo in August of 2007 was suffering the effects of a record-breaking heatwave.

Three people died the weekend I was in Tokyo. Well, not to be overly morbid, I'm sure many more than just three passed during those few days of temperatures in the upper 90s and humidity to match. Those unknown decedents met their mortality in ways those of us who remain strangers to them can only guess at. But the heat was lethal to this one notable trio, and it's heat we're concerned with here. Heat, mortality and doughnuts.

Two elderly people perished from heatstroke, which is tragic enough but not surprising. And a 35-year-old man also collapsed and died. That was sobering since here I was, planning to gorge myself on sugary heart-death and people younger than myself were falling down dead from the heat.

The Krispy Kreme staff thoughtfully provided umbrellas for the customers in the line, though. And with my naked forehead and face already turning pink, I wasn't ashamed to heft one for the meagre shade it provided... even as frilly-fringed as it was. Word had it the wait sometimes approached the 2-hour mark, so I was ready for a long, sweaty siege.

People looked bedraggled. Tokyo in summer is absolutely brutal, and we were in a desert of steel, glass and concrete. No shade. No wind. The wise wore hats.

But the hot doughnuts light was on! Just like back home. I've explained its significance to students a few times since Krispy Kreme appeared here in Japan. Hell, for all I know it stays on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at this store.

Hot doughnuts made their circuitous journey towards deliciousness just inside the windows, enchanting the people in line. "Sugoi! Sugoi!" they told each other, shielding their eyes from the glare to peer through the glass at the doughnuts.

Which looked like this:

That's me being artsy-fartsy, emphasis on the fartsy.

Only a few customers at a time were allowed inside, in order to cut down on in-store congestion. If you wanted a simple box of glazed, you could skip ahead. But I wanted special doughnuts. One variety I was hungry for was not on the menu, unfortunately. This lucky woman is just moments away from a revelatory sugar-rush the kind she could only dream of back in the benighted days of her Mr. Doughnuts love affair:

Yes, those are security guards. There were three, two younger guys and a middle aged man, performing crowd and store access control duties. It was a very orderly scene, and the guards themselves were courteous, often taking the loaner umbrellas back from the customers as they allowed them into the Krispy Kreme, then placing the umbrellas back in convenient stands placed along the line's length.

I don't know if this system was always in place, or if it developed when it became apparent Krispy Kreme was a mega-hit, spawning massive lines with excruciating wait times. I do know this- on this scalding day, it worked smoothly and everyone was grateful for how these guys oiled the works and kept things moving with a light touch and a smile. And as hot as we customers were, imagine how these guys felt hour after hour in those polyester uniforms.

It was a relief just getting inside. No more blistering sunlight. Cool, comfortable A/C and fluorescent lights. The heat had already done a number on my appetite at this point (I actually refused the free glazed doughnut a Krispy Kreme employee offered me outside the store!), and my plan was to buy 6 doughnuts and eat them back in my hotel room.

The woman on the right in the photo below is holding up the laminated menu the staff handed out to people near the line's front. If you count the doughnuts, you'll see Krispy Kreme Japan has led off with just 15 varieties. Of course the ever-popular glazed makes an appearance in the line-up, but there are also some seasonal variations exclusive to Japan.

Once I was inside, it took about 5 minutes to get through with the transaction. The staff there are young, attractive people. How different it is from Krispy Kreme back home! Here's my unopened box, just minutes after I got my sopping-wet-from-sweat body into the hotel room and cranked the air conditioner:

What doughnuts did I buy? Here, see for yourself:

Mmm... heart attacky... They tasted exactly like the doughnuts I remembered from the US. Very sweet, very light and fluffy, melting away in my mouth leaving the ghost of a delicious flavor sensation, stoking my addiction and making me wish I'd bought 6 more.


Nenena said...

Oh, man. I passed by the Krispy Kreme store when I was in Tokyo in June - twice! - but alas, did not have the time to stand two hours in line to get a donut. The smell of the place, however, gave me a craving so severe that it didn't go away until I was back in the United States for a week in August. The first place I went was my local Krispy Kreme. My sister and I were the only customers in the place. It was amazing.

...I still think that Mr. Donut has a superior menu. But Krispy Kreme will always have the ultimate plain glazed donut, against which no others can compare.

Joel Bryan said...

Hey- yeah, a 2 hour wait would've been too much! I think I was in line for about 30 minutes or so. And I agree about Mr. Donut. Choco rings and angel creams are awesome. Only when I have a real craving for doughnuts, it's always for the Krispy Kreme!

Audiovore said...

I remember when the first Krispy Kreme opened here in Seattle there were super-long wait times and what not. Even though there is now about a half-dozen scattered about town, I just get Entenmanns or grocery store bakery ones normally...