THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- Late in the summer of 1985, Rich Komen was on a quest: to find the world's tastiest cinnamon roll recipe.
A deal to bring T.J. Cinnamons franchises to malls in the West had fallen through, and he had a shop that was going to open soon.
"There we sat with a site that was going to open in 120 days, and no franchise agreement and no recipe," Komen, owner and founder of Seattle-based Restaurants Unlimited, told The (Tacoma) News Tribune for a story in Sunday editions.
A five-member taste-test team tried out more than 200 recipes over the next few months. They knew instantly when their search was over.
"It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up," Komen recalled.
Jerilyn Brusseau, then-owner of Brusseau's Country Bakery and Sidewalk Cafe in Edmonds, north of Seattle, adapted the recipe from the caramel-topped cinnamon rolls her grandmother, Maude Spurgeon, used to make.
"The challenge was to create a moist, tender, pillowy style of dough that was irresistible and could be baked to perfection in 14 minutes," Brusseau said.
The first Cinnabon store opened 20 years ago Monday at the mall in this south Seattle suburb - then called SeaTac Mall, now The Commons at Federal Way.
The first week or so, the rolls had raisins. They got dropped out of the recipe after enough customers commented.
Restaurants Unlimited, which owns Palomino, Kincaid and several other restaurants, sold Cinnabon to AFC Enterprises Inc. of Atlanta, owner of the Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits chain, in 1998.
AFC sold Cinnabon to franchiser Focus Brands, also of Atlanta, in November 2004. Along with the sale, Focus Brands, which controls the Carvel ice cream brand, also bought certain international franchise rights to Seattle's Best Coffee.
What attracted Steve Romaniello, Focus Brands' president and CEO, to Cinnabon?
"The smell," he said.
And the name. "We really thought the brand name was something special. We clearly recognize that there is a strong, passionate following," he said.
Focus Brands, an affiliate of private-equity firm Roark Capital Group, has 618 Cinnabon outlets in 30 countries.
Romaniello said he expects 1,000 Cinnabon outlets to open within the next three to five years. He said the company will look to expand in the traditional airport, mall and tollway locations.
"We're also thinking there's a place for Cinnabon in strip malls, casinos" and so-called lifestyle centers, Romaniello said, referring to upscale, outdoor-oriented malls, like Seattle's University Village.
The original store at the Federal Way mall had been closed, and was reopened by the franchisee in September. Romaniello said it was simple serendipity.
"It was luck for us that the mall and that lease were available," he said.