Get rich on Cruffins, or die trying.
These were the only two options that life had dealt to Aaron Caddel, owner of Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, at the tender age of 19 years old, when he was diagnosed with a potentially malignant brain tumor.
You would never guess that just a few years ago, the smiling, donut-chomping, Drake-loving proprietor behind one of the trendiest pastries to come out of California in the last couple of years—a flavored cream-filled, inverted croissant of sorts that is supposed to be a hybrid of a croissant and a muffin—was having violent seizures and problems with his basic motor functions.
Having recently turned 25, he is now busier than ever, with one location in San Francisco, one in Los Angeles (and another one coming soon), and two in Korea. And he credits his crazy success at such a young age to the existential realization that led him to fire all cylinders until he had complete world pastry domination.
As he recounts his jarring life story to me at his newest, high-ceilinged, shiny location in Highland Park, he takes swigs of Hennessy, an ingredient in an experimental Cruffin that is served with a tiny pipette of boozy cereal milk, and woofs down more of his own pastries.
"I'll never forget that first time when my upper body gave out and I fell head-first onto the ground," he tells me. "I was in high school and playing in my straight-edge hardcore band. We were on our second song and I fell into the cymbal." He takes a brief pause and goes on, "I was like, 'What the fuck is going on? I'm fully conscious but I can't move.' Then I black out and wake up in the hospital."
'Remember, life is so fucking short, if you want to eat that whole box of pastries, than go and eat it.'
"Doctors told me that there was a really good chance that I had brain cancer and would die real soon, and in the case that it was not. It would still probably fuck me up for life because it was so close to my motor cortex."
After learning that and losing his driving license, Caddel moved from his hometown of Redlands, California, up north to San Francisco, where the stars aligned for him to open Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. (Fun fact: His business is named after a homeless person named Mr. Holmes who threw up on his shoe while drinking one night in downtown LA.)
"I dropped out of college, pushed everything else aside, and became fixated with success."
Thinking he wasn't going to live past 30 after his brain surgery, he found a pastry chef, drafted a quick business plan, found some angel investors, and maxed out every credit card he could apply for to create a combined credit line of $100,000. Then, to the shock of himself and to the doctors who performed the eight-hour brain surgery, he fully recovered and is now expected to live a long, normal life. Nonetheless, that brush with death would shape his work ethic forever.
"Basically, I'm still acting like a success-obsessed, emotionless, crazy person who thinks they are going to die very soon. Bankruptcy means nothing when you think you're going to die."
You can immediately tell that his love for old-fashioned, sugary, buttery, rich pastries and good coffee is a genuine one, despite the bakery sporting gimmicky slogans along its white walls and floors, like "I GOT BAKED IN LOS ANGELES," "KALE SUCKS," and "ALL BUTTER EVERYTHING." His past straight-edge, hardcore music, "success-driven sociopathic" qualities follow him through his philosophy on pastries as well.
He describes his goods as "the comfort food of craft pastries" and that he doesn't have respect for pastry traditions. "We laminate the dough for our croissants however we want, and no, we are not dumbasses for not knowing how to properly pronounce things." He informs me that even though he has gotten world-famous for his Cruffin, the last thing he wants to do is become another trendy, pushover pastry phenomenon.
"Hell, the day that Jack-in-the-Box puts a Cruffin on the menu, I'm taking it off the menu."
After sharing his life story, the Hennessy hits hard and he turns up the hip-hop music playing in the background.
"Remember, life is so fucking short, if you want to eat that whole box of pastries, than go and eat it."