Even if you’ve never heard of Greyston Bakery, chances are good that you have, in fact, eaten their baked goods. Ever had a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie, or spooned your way through a full pint of Half Baked? Congratulations! You’ve had a little bit of Greyston in your belly. And it’s no coincidence that both of those flavors made it to Ben & Jerry’s top 10 list last year—Greyston’s brownies, which you can now snag in four flavors at UncommonGoods, are mind-blowingly tasty.
That’s not all, though. Like UncommonGoods (and Ben & Jerry’s), Greyston Bakery is a proud B Corp, and it’s New York state’s first Benefit Corporation, too. Founded by Zen Buddhist Roshi Bernie Glassman in 1982 in Yonkers, New York, Greyston is best known for its unique hiring model, dubbed Open Hiring™. “Open Hiring is simple,” says Ariella Gastel, Greyston’s VP of Marketing and Business Development: “If you want a job, come to the bakery, sign your name on a list, and wait to be called. No questions asked. No resume or interview needed.” Designed to break down barriers for those seeking honest work, Greyston’s policy provides opportunities to Yonkers locals who might otherwise encounter difficulty obtaining a job, whether that means they’re single parents, have trouble speaking English, or once struggled with homelessness. “It is hard to imagine how many people want to work but can’t because of barriers,” says Ariella. “Our mission is [to] create thriving communities through the practice and promotion of Open Hiring.”
Though most of our real live visits are to artist’s studios, we couldn’t resist making the trip up to Yonkers to visit Greyston’s facility ourselves. The promise of brownies, of course, was a draw, but we were equally excited to see Greyston’s mission in action and to have the chance to meet Ariella and longtime team members Cece and Raymond. Armed with questions and juuust enough space in our tummies for a brownie or two, we set off for Yonkers from Grand Central Station, a mere half hour from our final destination.
Before we boarded our train, though, we asked Ariella: Why bake brownies? What makes a kitchen the ideal place to do the work that Greyston does? “Our founder, Roshi Bernie Glassman, needed more bakers to help grow a successful cake business in the early 1980s,” she told us. (Greyston no longer bakes cakes, but that’s probably for the best, since we could have easily destroyed one in a single sitting.) “Originally he wanted a way for his Zen students to practice right livelihood and decided on a bakery as a good business. When he needed more bakers, he looked around the Bronx, and saw a huge issue with homelessness and poverty and decided to offer jobs to those in need, whether they had experience or not. This became the cornerstone of Open Hiring.”
The work that Greyston does, however, extends beyond Open Hiring. They’re responsible for a whole host of community initiatives, including workforce development courses, some geared toward local youth, housing facilities for formerly homeless people living with HIV/AIDS, and community gardens—one of which we were able to see—where fresh vegetables grow and leaders are made. Many of Greyston’s employees benefit from the bakery’s work in the community. Cece, for example—a mom to two school-aged kids, both bakers in their own right—has made use of Greyston’s childcare facility, while Raymond previously took part in the Greyston Rangers Transitional Employment Program, working to keep Yonkers’ streets clean. “That was a good experience,” he notes.
Meanwhile, it’s clear that Greyston’s bakers are the true cornerstone of the operation. “There are so many success stories at Greyston,” Ariella tells us. “Everyone has come to Greyston for different reasons. It is a lot easier to stay home and let someone else take care of you. Or think it is easier to earn money in the streets. The people that work at Greyston are special. They wanted to make a difference in their lives and Greyston helped them. There are people at Greyston who worked in other places, did a great job, were promoted, but then when [their employers] discovered they had a record, [they] asked them to leave. Others that worked so hard so they could get a full-time job, but were passed over because they were not fluent in English. They needed a full-time job to support their family so they came to us. One of the most publicized success stories is Dion, who sold drugs at age 14 and has now risen to become a training supervisor. He and others at the bakery are my inspiration.” Now, let’s meet two of them.
I love brownies. My brother introduced me to Greyston, because he was a mixer here. He used to come, and he used to bring brownies home, and he used to be so full of chocolate—and I’m like, “What are you doing?” And he’s like, “I’m working at a bakery! I make brownies!” And I said, “Brownies—and you didn’t bring me home none?”
I learned a lot with Greyston. … It’s my first job. I’ve been working here from the year 2000. … I went to school—they paid for me to go to school. I have two beautiful kids here with Greyston, too. We used their childcare—they have childcare, and the kids used to go there.
We’re all like a family. That’s another thing, too. People may come and go … but it’s really a family. I look forward to coming to work sometimes. … I’m a go-getter. I come in here and I pick up everybody’s spirits.
I think it was around… 2000-something, I put my name on the list. I got hired. At the time I was working for a moving company, and I’ll never forget—they called me, and they were like, “Do you want to come and work for Greyston?” And I said, “That’s that brownie factory!” So I said yeah, and I called up my job and I said, “I quit—I got a job at the bakery!”
After a while, I started talking to people … and [thinking], “This is where I want to be.” So as the year goes on, you start to open up to people—where you come from, what you do—like Cece says, it’s like a family here. … I look at it like this: I get a lot of motivation from other people. … Regardless of what we do outside, what we do here, it’s like a family. So I try to express that to my kids when I go home and they ask, “How was your day?” I say, “Well, I had a good day… with my second family.”
What I like about Greyston—it’s like a brand new start for me. You come here and everything’s out the window. No more felonies, no more misdemeanors. It’s like you’re brand new—born again. But it’s up to you to keep on with that.
By the time we left Greyston, bags full of brownies (and blondies) in hand, we were sure of one thing: Everyone there believed fully in the bakery’s mission, no matter their role in the organization. Touring the bakery and seeing Open Hiring in action, we believed in it, too. After all, that kind of enthusiasm is tough to shake… and it sure is hard to be a pessimist when you’re surrounded by chocolaty goodness.
Still need convincing of Greyston’s goodness? We’ve got a video for that.