For a donut shop, Momzi is surprisingly dark and bare.
But for a high-end gourmet donut shop in Paris whose target clientele is the Paris Week Fashion jet set, Momzi’s minimalist LBD-concept is on brand. From the quiet Parisian passageway rue Cherubini in the 2nd arrondissement, its black façade and unusually empty interior offer few hints about the business and can easily cause confusion among passers-by.
And American-born chef Raamin Samiyi likes it that way.
“People really have to know about us to come because we’re not on a street where there’s a lot of pedestrian traffic,” he told Robb Report. “A lot of people actually don’t even walk in because they’re kind of scared. They don’t know what it is. But I like that because it sparks curiosity.”
The notion of exclusivity and luxury underpin the vision at Momzi, where the humble, all-American donut is reinvented into gem-like pastries that rival some of the most luxurious pâtisseries in Paris: plump, pillowy rounds of brioche are bejeweled in paper-thin slivers of figs and studded with nigella seeds, or topped with pale pecan shavings that evoke the fluffy softness of winter’s first snowfall.
Momzi is one of several gourmet donut shops that have taken up permanent residence in Paris over the years and accepted as a legitimate pâtisserie by some of the world’s most discerning pastry palates: Parisians.
At Nonette Banh Mi and Donuts, opened in 2021 by the same team behind the popular southeast Asian canteen the Hood across the street, the specialty is pork floss donuts, a sweet and salty version of the Chinese rousong bun. Other flavors include durian and soya ondeh, a riff of the Singaporean dessert ondeh ondeh, made with gula melaka or palm sugar, soy sauce, and grated coconut.
Ponpon Café was the first to introduce Paris to mochi donuts in 2022, with gourmet flavors like pink ruby chocolate, crème brulée, and black sesame. And there’s also the French Donuts, billed as “donuts à la française” with flavors like Paris Brest and Café Liégois; Besties Bakery, a pink flower-framed shop where customers go for salted caramel, or mojito donuts; and Mamiche, where flavors change seasonally and can include apricot-verbena, strawberry-rhubarb, maple syrup, and coconut.
But many of these donut shops owe some of their success to Amanda Bankert of Boneshaker, widely accepted as the trailblazer in Paris who dared to bring donuts—up to then better known as the junk food fuel of Homer Simpson—to the fussy French capital back in 2015.
“I actually didn’t realize that there was a preconceived notion about donuts being the worst of all American food,” Bankert said at the shop in the 2nd arrondissement. “The way I looked at it was that every culture has their version of a fried dough dessert, like beignets in France. And who doesn’t love a donut?”
Well at that time, French banks for one.
Despite her credentials as a Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef who had worked in fine dining kitchens in Ireland for eight years churning out French pastries, no French bank would loan her the money she needed to turn her 2015 donut pop-up into a brick and mortar shop.
“This is not going to fly.”
“French people are not going to go for a donut,” she was told repeatedly.
So Bankert and her then husband and business partner Louis Scott used up their own savings and borrowed from friends and family to open a small takeout counter in 2016, where she negotiated three home fryers to make her handmade donuts. Five years later they were able to open a sit-down donut shop across the street, proving to her naysayers that donuts have become more than a passing trend.
Case in point: Krispy Kreme has announced plans to open their first shop in Paris by the end of the year.
Along with opening a new sit-down location, Boneshaker quietly pivoted to become an all-vegan shop in 2019, swapping out eggs and butter for aquafaba or chickpea water, oil, and margarine. In August, Bankert published Voilà Vegan, her first cookbook featuring plant-based desserts.
Back at Momzi, Samiyi, 34, also breaks with tradition and fries his donuts in organic coconut oil rather than vegetable oil, which studies have shown can produce toxic compounds in high temperatures. The coconut oil also leaves a cleaner, smoother finish in the mouth, he added.
The boutique concept reflects Samiyi’s multi-layered background: a California native of Iranian and Azerbaijan descent, who studied pharmacology (which is perhaps why he uses little sugar in his donuts) and piano before switching gears to study pâtisserie and becoming head pastry chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant Pilgrim in Paris.
Named after the term of endearment he uses to call his mother, Momzi also pays tribute to the matriarchs in his family, with names like Mother of Fig, an homage to his grandmother’s Persian koloocheh fig cake, or Mother of Dragons, made with three types of pistachios.
With his friend and business partner Thomas Bellego, a well-connected fashion and jewelry designer, the pair aimed to create an haute couture version of donuts. To mimic luxury fashion boutiques where scarcity translates to exclusivity, only six donuts, three on each side of the 130-square boutique, appear floating against infinity mirrors to create the illusion of plenty.
The slick, stylized photos on Momzi’s Instagram page are shot by high-end fashion photographers who work with Chanel and Dior and are overseen by Bellego who acts as artistic director.
Within just a year of opening in 2022, Samiyi has done luxury collaborations with Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, and LVMH-owned luxury department store La Samaritaine and created a new citrus Christmas donut for Vogue France, which dedicated a spread to Momzi last year.
It’s the kind of buzz that would be the envy of many long-established pastry chefs in Paris.
“I think fashion houses and big brands are always looking for something new and trendy,” Samiyi said. “You do have all these famous pastry chefs in Paris who do wonderful things, but it’s still within the realm of pastry.”
Momzi has also drawn interest from overseas food media in South Korea and Japan, and Samyi has fielded several proposals to open a US outpost of Momzi.
“It’s my goal, I really want to go to the U.S.,” he said. “But at this point it’s more like a five-year plan.”