Chicago Chef Starts Wonut Craze

Waffle-donut fusion began at Waffles Café in Lakeview before exploding on the Internet

Alex Hernandez won’t let Chicago take second-city status in the pastry world.

The owner of Waffles Café has invented the wonut, a waffle-doughnut fusion he began serving two months ago at his restaurant locations at 203 E. Ohio St. and 3611 N. Broadway St. to near-instant buzz.

The concept seemingly falls in line with Dominique Ansel's popular cronut, a croissant-doughnut hybrid that debuted in New York last summer, but Hernandez says cronuts and wonuts have little in common.

“They’re so different,” he said. “They really only resemble each other because of the name combination.”

(Meanwhile, this week Ansel debuted the waffogato, an ice cream-filled waffle with maple syrup espresso, at his New York bakery.)

Wonuts are much denser than the fluffy cronut, for one, and Hernandez encourages diners to eat wonuts with a knife and a fork because they're so sticky.

They also differ quite a bit in price. While customers pay $5 for a single cronut in New York, a wonut will only cost them $2.95 at Waffles Café.

“I just want people to enjoy it,” Hernandez said. “It’s a fried waffle with sugar and frosting.”

They currently come in 10 different flavors, including apple fritter, red velvet, maple pecan, Mexican chocolate and birthday cake, complete with vanilla icing and multicolored sprinkles.

Though they haven't reached cronut-level popularity, wonuts saw some international buzz after Thrillist published a story about the creation.

Hernandez avoids pretension with the wonut, but the chef has his accolades. He trained at Le Cordon Bleu and was the manager at Japonais in New York for nine years before opening Waffles Café in Lakeview two years ago. He opened a second Waffles Café location in Streeterville last week.

Hernandez began serving wonuts just two months ago, but the idea for the pastry came about a year ago. It took him several months to find the right recipe. He even had to find a different oil to fry the waffles in, because the typical oil used to fry doughnuts made them too greasy.

After developing the idea of the wonut, Hernandez spent several months trying to come up with the right name. He tried out “flonut,” “yo’nut,” “dofflé” and “daffle” before settling on “wonut,” which had the best customer reaction.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, he said, and it has extended beyond Chicago city limits. Hernandez said he began receiving phone calls and emails from reporters in New York, London and Tokyo. He went from selling about two dozen wonuts a day to 12 or 15 dozen a day during the week.

The concept of the wonut is still young. Hernandez has begun the process of copyrighting the name, much as the cronut creator's did, and said he wouldn’t be surprised if imitators began to emerge.

But Hernandez said he doesn't want to compete with the cronut. It's just not that kind of dessert.

“I wanted to make these fun,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t want to be uptight.”

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