Welcome to Middlebury, Indiana, population 3,605, the unexpected headquarters of a rapidly expanding ‘Amish crack’ empire.
Rise’n Roll Bakery and Deli is home to a variety of Amish-style goods at 12 different locations in Indiana, and will open a new franchise near Indianapolis in six weeks. Enter the original Middlebury location and one will find jars of jam, bottles of honey, a selection of Amish romance novels, a spinning display case of pies, a cooler full of massive blocks of cheese and donuts – Bavarian cream, peanut butter and “Crunch Bismark.”
Upon seeing the boxes and boxes of one particular product that sit on a long wooden counter, it becomes obvious which 350-calorie treat has made Rise’n Roll famous: the cinnamon caramel donut, for sale by the dozen, half-dozen, or in donut hole form. Over 50,000 are produced by an 18-person donut crew at the original facility in Middlebury each week and shipped across the region to the multiple Rise’n Roll locations.
It isn’t uncommon to hear these popular donuts referred to as ‘Amish crack,’ a nickname used because of the addictively delicious combination of caramel and cinnamon powdered sugar that sits atop a soft yeast donut. The nickname has become more popular among customers over the years, though Rise’n Roll has yet to adopt the term.
According to out-of-towner George Miller, who was eating at the Middlebury location on Tuesday morning, “they’re awful good.”
Marshall King, a freelance food writer and adjunct journalism professor at GC, has worked and eaten in Michiana for 20 years. He argues that Rise’n Roll lovers are using the name incorrectly.
“Back in the day, when I was an early evangelist for the goodness of Rise’n Roll, the crunch was called ‘Amish crack,’” King writes in a 2016 South Bend Tribune article, “though now it’s in the Urban Dictionary describing the doughnuts.”
For King, Amish crack describes one thing: caramel cashew crunch, a simple four-ingredient toffee also sold by Rise’n Roll bakeries since 2004. It’s not a new product and has been around longer than most of Rise’n Roll’s inventory. Still, it hasn’t gained nearly the cult-following that the donuts have.
King himself takes some credit for popularizing the phrase ‘Amish crack,’ although he asserts that he never used it to describe the donuts. Rise’n Roll officially opened in 2004, and he began writing about them soon after, using the phrase (in reference to the crunch) frequently.
King claims it was Amish women themselves who first called the crunch ‘Amish crack,’ but Rise’n Roll executive director Russ Crawford has a different story.
“It came out of the Chicago markets,” he said. “Rise’n Roll used to go and do pop-up markets at various locations around Chicago, and then that is where the crunch – the cashew crunch, the pecan crunch, the nutty crunch – was all originally called ‘Amish Crack’, and then several years later, when they got ahold of the cinnamon caramel donut, then that became what it is today.”
‘Amish crack’ quickly became synonymous with the cinnamon caramel donuts, instead of the crunch.
Despite these discrepancies around who popularized the term, there is no denying that Amish crack once meant something completely different from what it means now.
King takes some credit for expanding the local lexicon, but still has some qualms about the phrase.
“Should we be calling a treat the name of a drug?” he said.
According to executive director Crawford, the Amish who live and work in the area aren’t offended by the term.
“All of the Amish people know it as Amish crack,” Crawford said, “to them it’s kind of funny.”
Though Rise’n Roll doesn’t officially use the phrase, they take it in stride, and the business has benefited greatly from the free advertising that happens when people spread the word.
It’s become so popular that Rise’n Roll is currently working to trademark the term, so that other businesses can’t co-opt it. The trademarking process has been harder than expected, due to the fact that they don’t actually use the phrase on any of their products.
“It’s in a gray area for trademarking,” said Crawford, “because if we don’t use it, we can’t trademark it.”
The iconic donut was used, with permission, by Interra Credit Union for their “We live here too” campaign, which aimed to portray the credit union as trustworthy and local. One of their bright orange billboards featured a photo of the cinnamon caramel donut: “If your favorite donut has an unusual nickname… we get it, we live here too.”
Amish crack has also gained national attention, especially after the cinnamon caramel donut was named the official donut for National Donut Day by Dawn Foods Magazine in 2018. Rise’n Roll and their donuts were then featured in a 2018 article by OZY, a media and entertainment company based in California that produces content on multiple platforms. Their article, titled “Love donuts? You gotta try ‘Amish crack,’” made no mention of the cashew caramel crunch, the original ‘crack.’
For GC college students with an appetite, there is no better treat than a sticky, powdery ring of fried dough.
Emma Bontrager, first year, claims that Rise’n Roll “is the only good thing God gave Indiana.”
At this point, King has accepted there is no going back.
“It’s probably time for me to just give it up,” King said. “I mean, I’m not gonna change how people use the term at this point. It’s taken on a life of its own.”
He finds the name change more of an interesting anecdote than something of great importance.
“I think it’s a fascinating study in language,” he said, “the meaning of the term changed, and for many people ‘Amish crack’ now means the donuts, not the crunch. And that just is what it is.”