MOSCOW — On Nikolskaya Street, in the shadow of the Kremlin, Russia’s first book was printed in 1564, its first college was opened in 1685 and its first newspaper was published in 1703. The Krispy Kreme doughnut arrived Thursday.
The line for doughnuts began forming at 11 a.m. Wednesday, 22 hours before the historic moment when Krispy Kreme opened for business in Russia. By 9 a.m. Thursday, 200 people were waiting. First inside would win doughnuts for a year.
“They put something in it,” Susanna Agababyan, 21, mused, wondering why she so savored the doughnut she had just eaten. “I had the original. It’s really tasty.”
Agababyan, a translator of Italian, had a box with a dozen doughnuts in her lap. She sat at an outdoor table with a friend, Mikhail Kiselyov, 22, an accounting student. “Today I tasted this for the first time,” Kiselyov said, “and I decided maybe it was worth it.”
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That would be chocolate with sprinkles.
“We were thinking of standing in line,” he said, “but we decided against it.”
They had arrived Thursday evening, when the crowd had died down, but even at 7 p.m. about 25 people stood on the sidewalk awaiting entry and a glimpse at the doughnut theater, where originals rolled steadily along on a conveyor belt behind a large glass window. Agababyan’s dozen would be taken home to her sister.
Nikolskaya lies in the heart of 866-year-old Moscow. The dreaded Lubyanka, home of the security police, looms above one end of the street. At the other end lies the imposing Kremlin, where dark theories regularly emerge about the United States and its eagerness to interfere in Russian affairs. Thursday, in an opinion article published in The New York Times, President Vladimir Putin scolded the United States for considering itself exceptional. In America, President Obama was being criticized by some for handling Russia badly.
Has no one told them that in Russia, American calories rule? A Subway sandwich shop operates at the other end of Nikolskaya Street, which also has a Beverly Hills Diner tucked in among expensive Italian clothing stores and elegant restaurants. A nearby McDonald’s dishes out one Big Mac after another to an unending stream of customers. Dunkin’ Donuts shops dot the city.
“Russians are not opposed to what America produces,” Agababyan said.
The Krispy Kreme store was brought to Moscow by Arkady Novikov, a Russian restaurant magnate who specializes in expensive, buzz-provoking restaurants. He expects a customer to pay $30 for a plate of risotto, and be grateful for the opportunity. An original Krispy Kreme was $1.55 or $1.60 Thursday, as the exchange rate jumped around. That’s expensive for some but only a third of the price of a small éclair at one of the city’s big coffee-house chains.
“He’s been wanting to do this for a long time,” said James Phillips, director of International Marketing for Krispy Kreme, who was in town from his office in Dubai. “He first ate them about 10 years ago in London, and his children were always after him to bring some back to Moscow.”
40 stores planned
Krispy Kreme has an agreement with Novikov to open 40 stores in the next five years, Phillips said. Though the doughnuts are thoroughly American, the company tries to adapt to local tastes. A doughnut with caramel, chocolate and nuts was selling nicely Thursday.
Eagerness to stand in line was whetted by the promise of doughnuts. While the first customer won doughnuts for a year, the second and third got a sixth-month supply. The next 37 got a free dozen.
Sona Arzumanyan had heard rumors a year ago that Krispy Kreme was about to open and had been waiting ever since. “When it didn’t open,” she said, “I was very sad.”
She and her friend, Anna Volgina, both 29-year-old lawyers, had become devotees in London, where they had studied. Both had boxes to take home to family.
Neither was surprised by the lines. “People like to have something new,” Volgina said.
A sign outside offered a reminder of the Krispy Kreme heritage. “Since 1937,” it read. That was the year an entrepreneurial American bought a recipe from a New Orleans French chef and began making doughnuts in Winston-Salem, N.C.
In the Soviet Union that year, Josef Stalin’s terror and purges were at their height, with people being shot night after night in the basement of the Lubyanka up the street.
Those horrors are being forgotten. Moscow is a busy, modern city, looking forward rather than back. The young travel and develop cosmopolitan tastes. (“It’s globalization,” Volgina reminded.)
And now a new red sign glows on old Nikolskaya as the aroma of doughnuts fills the air.