On the corner of 149th Place and Barton Avenue in the Murray Hill section of Flushing, the sleek Croffle House serves this decadent treat: A soft, buttery, and layered croissant toasted to a caramelized, honeycomb crispiness in a waffle iron before it’s dressed a dozen different ways. The best-selling flavors here lean sweet and savory: Ang butter (a direct Korean export of red bean paste and a thick slab of butter sandwiched between croffle slices); blueberry with blueberry cream cheese; strawberry with whipped cream; and sweet potato or goguma mousse, the cafe’s newest launch ($3.25 to $4.75 each).
It was during one of his frequent visits to Seoul in early 2019 that Croffle House co-founder Kooksu Kim, the former head pastry chef of Manhattan’s Koreatown branch of Tous les Jours, learned to prepare the croffle from his friends. At the time, the pastry was a rare sighting in the capital of South Korea. The market was “very small,” explains Croffle House co-founder William Ham explains. “Now, it’s everywhere.”
Despite the croffle’s link to South Korea, its origin actually traces back to two separate events: A 2015 Food and Wine home cooking video in NYC and a 2017 pop-up at La Petite Boulangerie in Dublin, Ireland, where pastry chef and TV show host, Louise Lennox, is credited with inventing the buttery pastry as part of a collaboration with bakery chain Cuisine de France. Jump to November 2018, and the stylish Aufglet cafe, considered the first to debut the croffle in Seoul, began offering it with a scoop of cinnamon-sprinkled whipped cream on top. Months later, in early 2019 — around the time of Kim’s visit — the croffle appeared in a smattering of cafes and street food vendors in South Korea’s capital city.
The pandemic propelled it the pastry to food fad stardom through the first quarter of 2020 as people staying indoors favored the accessibility of ingredients and ease of cooking, and started making croffles at home and posting them to social media. By some counts, the sales of waffle irons surged 300 percent from May 2019 to 2020, and a recurring joke claimed that the croffle was the best thing to come out of the pandemic. An Instagram post on April 7, 2020, from South Korean singer and actress, Kang Min-kyung, who extolled the croffle for being “really, so, so, so tasty” further catapulted the croffle to mainstream popularity.
In August 2020, Kim and Ham signed a lease on their corner property, and as they were breaking ground in Flushing, Queens, the croffle made its way stateside, finding an early home in Los Angeles’s Koreatown where Mumu Bakery Cafe and Bumsan Organic Milk Bar debuted their new toasty menu item in November within a week of each other.
“Everybody thought we were crazy when we were doing construction stuff, and when we told our friends and family members that we’re gonna sell something that they’d never even seen before,” Ham says. “So I thought the business was going to be really slow...but ever since we opened, so many people showed us love. I had customers who came back three, four times in the same day.”
Croffle House churns out up to a thousand fresh croffles throughout the day until 10 minutes before closing time. Not one of them sits on the shelf longer than 30 minutes, according to Ham.
The croffle is only gaining more attention as people line up for the crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside buttery treat that’s an Instagram hit with its free-for-all inventiveness for toppings, dippings, and stuffings. In Queens, Coffee Monster, Coffee Factory, and Afternoon have recently added it to their menus. In Los Angeles, Bobarita and Crofflesaurus have launched with a focus on croffles. And it’s cropped up in pastry shops in Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Canada, and Indonesia, where it currently basks in the spotlight of viral TikToks and YouTube videos.
It’s all a reminder of another creative take on the croissant that has become a household name and spawned iterations all over the world: Dominique Ansel’s Cronut. In Asia and now the U.S., it appears the croffle is following in its cousin’s footsteps.
Croffle House is open Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and weekends 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.