San Francisco-based Mr. Holmes Bakehouse eschews convention. After being diagnosed with a brain tumor that would either paralyze him or end his life by age 30, CEO and founder Aaron Caddel—unencumbered by fears of bankruptcy, breaking the rules, or failing—dropped out of school and created a pastry masterpiece: the Cruffin. The former barista earned a strong following almost immediately for his croissant-muffin hybrid filled with pastry creams and toppings. Now tumor-free, Caddel has turned personal tragedy into obsessive ambition. Beyond the famous Cruffin—which became so popular that a burglar broke in and stole the recipe!—the bakery embraces an unabashed gratuitous love of high-caloric delights. We’ve been enamored with their Cornflake Cookie since 2017, using them in ice cream sandwiches at our Larchmont shop’s 3rd anniversary and currently in a malty cornflake ice cream with floral boysenberry jam. We shot the breeze with Caddel about all our burning Mr. Holmes curiosities.
DO YOU HAVE MORNING RITUAL?
Absolutely. I like to spend a good hour centering myself. This involves picking one set of eight black jeans and shirts that I own. They're literally all the same but I still spend way too much time here. Then I listen to my Discover Weekly at least twice before coming into work. Spotify has done wonders for my confidence.
DOES MR. HOLMES HAVE A PROCESS FOR R&D’ING NEW PASTRIES?
Our R&D process for each new pastry and donut/Cruffin flavor starts around four months before launch. During this time, we work through idea-generation, test-baking, sampling, tweaking, sampling, tweaking, etc. Our entire team is involved in this process. Nothing is off the table, which leads to a lot of ideas to bring to life. Once we finish that process, we start right up again.
CROISSANT VS. CRUFFIN BATTLE. WHO WINS AND WHY?
Oh, man. Croissant every time and it isn't even close. Without the Croissant, there would be no Cruffin or Danish or Bearclaw. We gotta respect the OG.
YOU’RE NO LONGER “NEWCOMERS TO THE PASTRY WORLD.” HOW DO YOU BELIEVE YOU’VE “REWRITTEN THE TRADITIONAL RULES OF BRANDING, OVERTURNED COMMON PRACTICE IN COMPANY CULTURE, AND/OR RETHOUGHT CRAFT BAKING AS A WHOLE”?
Well, we work hard to stay in that "newcomer" mindset. We're always striving to create that next phase, whether that's in branding or pastry. We've built a culture based on reexamining what works and what doesn't. That process never ends. For our company culture, we've constantly pushed to elevate our kitchen teams, baristas, and everyone in between. We've rebuilt our compensation package to give them control over their wage. Our entire menu process runs straight from their creativity. Every day we're building more systems that focus on them.
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND YOUR CORNFLAKE COOKIE?
We asked our teams, What does breakfast in a cookie taste like? One of our pastry chefs knew the answer.
HOW MANY BUTTERS DID YOU HAVE TO TEST BEFORE LANDING ON THE ONE FROM ISIGNY-SUR-MER, FRANCE?
Dozens. That was one of the first development projects we undertook as a company. We're beyond proud to support a company like Isigny that values craft, their ingredients, and their employees to a fanatical degree.
HOW DO YOU REMAIN AUTHENTIC AND UNCONVENTIONAL WHILE SATISFYING YOUR MASSIVE DRIVE FOR SUCCESS?
It's something that's been baked into our company culture from day one, with our success being a direct result of that. It does get difficult to remember that as you grow. Our surroundings may change but we've been fortunate to have a group of people that insist on making their voice heard.
ANY PASTRY FAILS THAT NEVER SAW THE LIGHT OF DAY?
I've eaten more pastry fails than any person has the right to. They may not make it on the menu but they never taste like failure.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR (WE HAD TO ASK)?
Honestly, I'm a Sea Salt w/ Caramel Ribbons guy to the bitter end BUT, as of late, I have been enjoying more Boysenberry Jam.
HAVING HAD A FEW YEARS TO REFLECT NOW, DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD’VE MADE YOUR WAY INTO BUSINESS IF YOU HADN’T HAD A BRAIN TUMOR, OR WOULD YOU HAVE STAYED THE ENGINEER ROUTE?
That's a tough question. I think I would have found my way into business or entrepreneurship eventually but it would have taken much longer. Being that close to my mortality pushed me to be braver and more focused than a 19-year-old college dropout probably should be.
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH ALL THOSE CRUFFIN TOPS??
Proudly display them every summer ;)