With the Utah “cookie wars” grinding on, and the space for cookie makers getting more crowded — with Crumbl, Chip, Crave, Dirty Dough, RubySnap and others — one Utah company is banking on a spiral-shaped alternative: Cinnamon rolls.
“We actually believe that, yes, that will be the next thing. We’ve had people come in and try to duplicate what we have here,” said John Thomas, co-owner of WannaCinn, a cinnamon roll bakery that opened its first location this summer in Riverton’s Mountain View Village — right next to a Chip store.
Those trying to copy WannaCinn’s model may have a tough time, Thomas said. “The problem is: No one has figured out how to make a scratch-made, artisan, high-quality gourmet roll, and a production process that can help support that,” he said.
One thing that sets WannaCinn apart, Thomas said, is its recipe, created by co-owner David Sickich. It’s lighter and less bread-like than traditional rolls, Thomas said.
“This is a recipe he’s been perfecting for the last 10 years,” Thomas said. “And it’s taken us four years to talk his wife into doing this.” (Their spouses, Tamara Sickich and Elisha Thomas, also work for the company.)
Sickich said he initially planned to start the company with his son and daughter-in-law through farmers markets, and was looking for a name to trademark.
A friend of 20 years gave Sickich the name: “You gotta call it WannaCinn.” The friend talked about people coming out of the temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “He said, ‘People come out of the temple and say, “Now do you want to sin?”’ So that’s why we’ve kind of played on that. We’re very light-hearted. It’s not about evil. It’s playful, it’s fun, and what we all deal with going through the human experience.”
The company’s logo plays on that, with devil horns and a tail. The plastic forks given out with the rolls look like tiny pitchforks.
The menu is full of puns, like the “Original Cinns” — which include Sickich’s original roll recipe. There’s also “Ultimate Cinns,” like the peanut butter roll or the pumpkin chocolate chip roll, which rotate on the menu, based on customer response. “Specialty Cinns” include raspberry, orange and amaretto. They also offer a monthly flavor: For November, it’s cranberry.
And there’s the cinnamon-free roll, called “Mr. Perfect” — “He who is without sin,” Sickich said.
Thomas said they were confident the idea would work, because it has before. “Cinnabon has been proving that since the ‘80s,” Thomas said. (Cinnabon has locations in 48 states, according to its website; there are 15 listed in Utah, most of them in Maverik convenience stores and truck stops.)
The business has been growing fast. “In March of this year, we had the cinnamon rolls, and we had the name, and the logo,” Thomas said. “From that day, we pushed pretty hard to have a national feel, because we want to grow very quickly.”
In June, he said, the flagship Riverton location (4578 W. Partridge Hill Lane) was an empty store — “four walls and a bathroom” — and by July, they were baking. By August, they were staffed and open.
Sickich said WannaCinn aims to open stores soon in Farmington and Saratoga Springs, followed by Spanish Fork, Sandy, Heber City and St. George.
Thomas added, “our plan is to do 15 locally owned locations and then branch out.”
The company’s approach to staffing also sets them apart. A week before the first store opened, Thomas said, they received close to 450 applicants — drawn, he said, by the offer of $19-an-hour wages.
Many of their hires were first-time bakers, and Sickich said most of them can now make rolls better than he can. Both men attributed the employees’ fast progress to a system built on constructive feedback rather than criticism.
The Riverton location has a clear panel, through which customers can see the bakers making the rolls from scratch — some 4,000 to 6,000 a day, on demand.
“We have this down to the gram,” Thomas said, adding that Sickich’s experience in his home kitchen allowed them to scale up but still stay precise with the ingredients and the baking process.
Customers, Thomas said, “are used to this frozen, cut-up stuff, and it’s fun to tell people to try these. It’s not what we put on top, because we’re not trying to cover up a bad base.”
“We do taste testing, and one of the things we do is let [customers] try it without the icing,” Thomas said. “And they’re like, ‘There’s no icing!’ And we say, ‘We know!’ Then they try it with icing, and they say, ‘That’s the best cinnamon roll I’ve ever had.’”