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 30, founder and CEO Aaron Caddel dropped out of school and—unencumbered by fears of bankruptcy, breaking the rules, or, say, failing—invented a pastry masterpiece: the Cruffin. The former barista earned a strong following almost immediately for his croissant-muffin hybrid filled with pastry creams like key lime pie curd and chocolate whipped mousse.
Now tumor-free, Caddel has managed to turn personal tragedy into obsessive ambition. The Cruffin has become so legendary that a burglar broke in and stole the recipe, but the real star in our eyes is the salty Cornflake Cookie. We’ve sandwiched the cookie with ice cream at our Larchmont scoop shop’s 3rd anniversary, and we currently speckle them in a malty cornflake ice cream with floral boysenberry jam scooping in our Los Angeles shops. We shot the breeze with Caddel about all our burning Mr. Holmes curiosities.
IF YOU HADN’T BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH A BRAIN TUMOR, DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD’VE MADE YOUR WAY INTO BUSINESS 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.
CROISSANT VS. CRUFFIN. WHO WINS AND WHY?
Oh, man. Croissant every time. It isn’t even close. Without the croissant, there would be no Cruffin or Danish or Bear claw. We gotta respect the OG.
WHAT’S THE R&D PROCESS FOR NEW PASTRIES?
About four months before launch, 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.
YOU’RE NO LONGER A NEWCOMER TO THE PASTRY WORLD. HOW DO YOU THINK YOU’VE RETHOUGHT CRAFT BAKING?
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 pastry chef knew the answer.
HOW MANY BUTTERS DID YOU TEST BEFORE LANDING ON THE ONE YOU USE 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 their craft, ingredients, and 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 gets 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 voices heard.
ANY PASTRY FAILS THAT NEVER SAW THE LIGHT OF DAY?
I’ve eaten more of these than any person has the right to. They may not make it on the menu, but they never taste like failure.
FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR?
I’m a Sea Salt w/ Caramel Ribbons guy to the bitter end.
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH ALL THOSE CRUFFIN TOPS?!
Proudly display them every summer ;)