How Cranky Granny's Sweet Rolls Went From a Teenager's Dream to a Must-Stop Destination
Sianni Dean wants to see her cinnamon rolls across the country
A cinnamon roll is a deceptively simple treat. It's an enriched bread rolled up with cinnamon sugar, baked, and topped with a cream cheese, confectioner's glaze, or buttercream icing. But that simple pastry is the result of a process that takes hours and hours, sometimes multiple days. While the ingredients remain the same, the results can vary widely based on external factors the baker can't control.
The process of making cinnamon rolls is not unlike building a small business. It's a process with discrete phases: the idea, gathering and measuring ingredients, assembling said ingredients, waiting, rolling, cutting, waiting some more. Then you execute. And even at the end of the line, you still may not be successful. But maybe you will be.
Such is the case with Cranky Granny's, a gourmet cinnamon roll shop located in the Domain. Conceived, owned, and operated by 23-year-old Sianni Dean, the business has undergone a variety of phases on its way to being fully realized.
Warm Milk, Sugar, and Yeast
The first step in making cinnamon rolls is to proof the yeast. To warm (but not too hot) milk, you add a few teaspoons of yeast and a fat pinch of sugar to feed it. Then you let it sit for several minutes to see whether the yeast starts to bubble and foam. That's how you know you've got good yeast.
Dean came up with the idea for Cranky Granny's when she was 15 and in an entrepreneurship club at school in Willingboro, N.J., but didn't launch the business until she was 18. She spent the three intervening years between concept and execution doing market research. Proofing the yeast, so to speak.
"Every year there was a competition in which you could win $100,000 to go toward your first business plus help from [the club sponsor's] marketing firm," says Dean. "I never won. And my last year I felt like I should have won.
"He told me, 'I don't think you're ready to be a boss.' When he told me that it set something off in me. It went from 'now I have to prove you wrong,' to just proving myself right."
After you mix your dough, you must let it rest in a warm environment so that it doubles in size. Dean launched Cranky Granny's, named in tribute to her grandmother, from her apartment, where she operated for a couple of years, crowdfunding among her personal and professional networks, including the Harrison family, who owns the Rita's Water Ice franchise where Dean worked as a young adult. These donors are called "Founders," and their names and photos are framed on the wall at Cranky Granny's storefront.
In 2020, the opportunity arose for Dean to relocate her sweet roll operation to Austin. She was not without her 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 rolls and food platters out of my apartment back home in New Jersey or take a leap of faith."
In November of 2020, Dean and her girlfriend moved to Austin and Cranky Granny's set up shop in the back of Midtown Live, a sports bar and cafe in the St. Johns neighborhood. While the product was well received by the clientele, Dean had her sights on a brick-and-mortar storefront, one with greater visibility and higher foot traffic. When a lease became available at the Domain in early 2021, Dean leaped at the opportunity, opening her doors in May 2021. She was 22.
"I like being here at the Domain. At Midtown, it was kind of hard to find us," Dean explains. "We had a banner outside, but some people couldn't see it so they wouldn't even know we're inside. Here you have a lot more parking."
And potential customers with significant disposable income. "We aren't the most expensive cinnamon roll, but we are premium."
The Punch Down
After the first rise, you must (gently) punch down your dough to release the gases that accumulated in the fermentation process. This helps keep the gluten from stretching out too much, resulting in dense, tough rolls. The point is to maintain the structural integrity of the dough so that it remains tender and appealing.
Cranky Granny's scratch-made rolls are, roughly, the size of a sixth-grader's face, and they'll set you back about seven bucks, depending on what you order. There's the classic sweet roll, with a thick confectioner's glaze. That's entry-level stuff. When you're ready to get serious, there's the cookies and cream, with a generous rubble of chocolate-crème cookies on top. Or the peach cobbler, with a heaping scoop of the classic dessert on top. Banana pudding is laden with crushed vanilla wafers and loaded with banana slices. It's breakfast, with a side of dessert. And there's the option to add ice cream. There are also vegan sweet rolls in several flavors, plus milkshakes and smoothies.
Far from the trendy, upscale Rock Rose arm of the Domain, Cranky Granny's is in the relatively quiet southern wing by Dillard's, an escape room, Maggiano's Little Italy, and Bath & Body Works. One might wonder whether the shop is a good fit for the area, but Dean states that the shop is busier at the Domain than inside Midtown Live. The shop has a staggering 4.9-star rating on Google reviews, with patrons exclaiming, "Cranky Granny's has made me fat!" and, "It smells like heaven [...] like my grandmother's house when she was baking."
The structure is being built; another transition is on the horizon.
The last step before putting cinnamon rolls in the oven is a final resting time, when your cinnamon-and-sugared buns rise to double their size. If they rise nicely, odds are good that you're going to have a successful final product.
Cranky Granny's lease at the Domain ends in April, and Dean is on the hunt for a new location, one with even greater visibility and a drive-through. To that end, she is once again crowdfunding, seeking more Founders, virtually through GoFundMe, and in the shop in the form of the $100 Golden Child sweet roll topped with salted chocolate caramel glaze, 24-carat gold flakes, and gold-dusted chocolate truffles.
Dean's vision for Cranky Granny's includes franchising across the country, as well as establishing a legacy for her family.
"I want Cranky Granny's to be something that is not only for me and my siblings and my parents but for my nieces and nephews and my kids and grandkids and so on," she says.
Ultimately, the proof will be in the process.
Cranky Granny's10910 Domain Dr. #106
Wed.-Thu., 11am-8pm; Fri.-Sat., 10am-9pm; Sun., noon-6pm