Sianni Dean, owner of Cranky Granny (Photo by John Anderson)
A cinnamon roll is a deceptively simple treat. It is an enriched bread rolled up with cinnamon sugar, baked and topped with a cream cheese, confectioner’s glaze or buttercream frosting. But this simple pastry is the result of a process that takes hours and hours, sometimes days. Although the ingredients remain the same, the results can vary considerably depending on external factors that the baker cannot control.
The process of making cinnamon rolls is not unlike starting a small business. It is a process with discrete phases: the idea, gathering and measuring the ingredients, assembling said ingredients, waiting, rolling, cutting, waiting again. Then you run. And even at the end of the line, you still cannot succeed. But maybe you will.
This is the case of Cranky Granny’s, a gourmet cinnamon bun shop located in the Domaine. Conceived, owned and operated by 23-year-old Sianni Dean, the business went through various phases before being fully realized.
Hot milk, sugar and yeast
The first step in making cinnamon rolls is to let the yeast rise. To warm (but not too hot) the milk, you add a few teaspoons of yeast and a big pinch of sugar to nourish it. Then you let it sit for several minutes to see if the yeast starts bubbling and foaming. This is how you know you have good yeast.
Dean had the idea for Cranky Granny’s when she was 15 and in an entrepreneurship club at school in Willingboro, NJ, but didn’t start the business until she was 18. She spent the three years between concept and execution doing market research. . The yeast test, so to speak.
Sianni Dean came up with the idea for Cranky Granny’s when she was 15 years old. At 18, she started the business from her apartment. Now 23 years old, she has made her pastry shop an essential stop on the estate.
“Every year there was a contest where you could win $100,000 to start your first business, plus help from [the club sponsor’s] marketing company,” says Dean. “I have never won. And last year, I felt like I should have won.
“He said to me, ‘I don’t think you’re ready to be a boss.’ When he told me that triggered something in me. It went from ‘now I have to prove you wrong’ to just proving myself right.”
After mixing your dough, you need to let it sit in a warm environment to double in size. Dean launched Cranky Granny’s, named after her grandmother, from her apartment, where she operated for a few years, crowdfunding among her personal and professional networks, including the Harrison family, owners of the Rita’s Water Ice franchise. where Dean worked as a young adult. These donors are referred to as “founders”, and their names and photos are framed on the wall of Cranky Granny’s storefront.
In 2020, the opportunity presented itself for Dean to move his sweet bun operation to Austin. She was not without doubts. “I was so against coming to Texas. Only because I hate the hot weather,” she laughs. “But I could either keep selling the sweet buns and food platters from my apartment in New Jersey or take a leap of faith.”
In November 2020, Dean and his girlfriend moved into Austin and Cranky Granny’s boutique in the back of Midtown Live, a sports bar and cafe in the St. Johns neighborhood. Although the product was well received by customers, Dean had his sights set on a physical storefront, a storefront with greater visibility and higher foot traffic. When a lease became available at the Estate in early 2021, Dean jumped at the chance, opening in May 2021. She was 22 years old.
“I love being here at The Estate. In Midtown, it was a bit hard to find us,” Dean explains. “We had a banner outside, but some people couldn’t see it, so they didn’t even know we were inside. Here you have a lot more parking spaces.”
And potential customers with significant disposable income. “We’re not the most expensive cinnamon rolls, but we’re premium.”
Photo by John Anderson
Photo by John Anderson
After the first rise, you need to (gently) pack down your dough to release the gases that have built up during the fermentation process. This helps prevent the gluten from stretching too much, resulting in dense, tough rolls. The goal is to maintain the structural integrity of the dough so that it remains tender and attractive.
Cranky Granny’s handmade rolls are about the size of a sixth grader’s face, and they’ll set you back around seven bucks, depending on what you order. There’s the classic sweet roll, with a thick confectioner’s glaze. This is entry level equipment. When you’re ready to get down to business, there’s cookies and cream, with a generous layer of chocolate cream cookies on top. Or the Peach Cobbler, with a big scoop of the classic dessert on top. Banana pudding is loaded with crushed vanilla wafers and loaded with banana slices. It’s breakfast, with a dessert side. And there is the possibility of adding ice. There are also vegan sweet buns in several flavors, as well as milkshakes and smoothies.
Away from the hip, upscale Rock Rose arm of the estate, Cranky Granny’s sits in the relatively quiet south wing of Dillard’s, an escape room, Maggiano’s Little Italy, and Bath & Body Works. It’s debatable whether the shop is a good fit for the area, but Dean says the shop is busier at The Estate than inside Midtown Live. The store has a staggering 4.9 star rating on Google reviews, with customers exclaiming, “Cranky Granny’s made me fat!” and, “It smells like heaven […] like my grandmother’s house when she was cooking.”
The structure is under construction; another transition is on the horizon.
Photo by John Anderson
The final step before putting the cinnamon rolls in the oven is a final resting time, when your cinnamon sugar rolls rise to double in size. If they go up well, there’s a good chance you’ll get a successful end product.
Cranky Granny’s lease at the Estate ends in April, and Dean is looking for a new location, with even greater visibility and drive-thru. To that end, she’s been crowdfunding again, looking for more founders, virtually through GoFundMe, and in the shop in the form of the $100 Golden Child sweet bun topped with salted chocolate caramel frosting, 24 karat gold flakes and chocolate sprinkled with gold. truffles.
Dean’s vision for Cranky Granny’s includes franchising across the country, as well as establishing a legacy for his family.
“I want Cranky Granny’s to be something that’s not just for me and my siblings and my parents, but also for my nieces and nephews and my kids and grandkids and so on,” she says.
Ultimately, the proof will be in the process.
10910 Domain Drive, Suite 106
Wed-Thu, 11am-8pm; Fri-Sat, 10am-9pm; Sun, noon-6pm
A version of this article appeared in print on January 28, 2022 with the title: Roll on a dream