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As we wrote our list of 99 Essential Restaurants™ in Lower Manhattan, we spoke to many of the chefs, owners, and general managers who run the restaurants. We asked them to tell us about the history of their neighborhoods and eateries, recount good memories, and talk to us about what’s hardest about running a restaurant in New York.
Some of these interviews were too good not to share, like the one that follows with Mark Isreal of Doughnut Plant (379 Grand Street and 220 West 23rd Street; 212-505-3700).
What year did you open?
I started making donuts in 1994 in a basement bakery in the Lower East Side and delivering to Dean & Deluca, Balducci’s, and other places. In 2000, Doughnut Plant opened at 379 Grand Street, and in 2011, we opened the Chelsea Hotel location.
What’s your philosophy?
Being original and delicious.
What was your original vision for this restaurant, and how has that evolved?
When I started…it was just the chain doughnut stores. Nobody was making doughnuts like this, so in the beginning, it was [giving our] doughnuts [to] people to try and showing them that it was a new vision. I was taking something and letting people see it in a different way. Not only could [a doughnut] be delicious, the quality could be such that it would be as good for you as a doughnut could possibly be [because we were] using high quality ingredients. The colors and flavors come from actual fruit from the greenmarket. I think everything should be good for you, but first of all, [it should] be delicious. To be the best, I wanted to make the best doughnut.
What doughnuts can you not take off the menu?
The crème brûlée is the number one best selling doughnut. That’s the one that everybody comes here for. The top of it is torched and it has a crunch from the caramelization of the sugar. The combination of textures is amazing.
What are your favorite memories of the restaurant?
Right before I first opened the store, I went on Emeril’s show. I wasn’t really aware of the impact of television on your business, and when the show aired, there was suddenly a line around the block. It was crazy because we were just making doughnuts as fast as we could make them. It was just my father and I in the bakery, and we were just laughing about how many people were outside.
How do you fit in the neighborhood?
I’ve lived in this neighborhood for over 30 years. A lot of the neighborhood people come here and then there are people from all over the world
What’s best about being part of the NYC restaurant industry?
The best part is the immediacy of things happening.
What’s the hardest part about having a restaurant in NYC?