Monday, September 27, 2010

Do Good and Do Well: Greyston Bakery Tour New York

By: Finance Foodie

During the past two years writing Forays of a Finance Foodie, I’ve had the opportunity to attend many fantabulous events – from restaurant openings to fashion shows to grand tastings. Although all were fun-filled and electrifyingly awesome, none of these experiences touched my heart as much as my recent visit to Greyston Bakery, a company that epitomizes the crux of social entrepreneurialism at its best.

Last week, Boston bloggers Fiona, Lisa, Karen, and I (along with a crew of New York based bloggers) were invited to spend the day at Greyston’s baking plant in downtown Yonkers. For those who are not familiar with the Greyston Bakery story, the company was founded by NASA engineer turned Zen Buddhist Bernie Glassman in 1982. Glassman created the bakery with the goal of employing the “unemployable” (i.e. individuals with criminal records, substance abuse, and low education levels) in order to get them back on their feet and into the workforce. Although the bakery is a for-profit business, all their profits go back to the Greyston Foundation, the non-profit parent company of the bakery and also one of the largest social service organizations in Yonkers. The Greyston Foundation uses these profits (along with government grants and private donations) to support health and welfare programs that build and uplift the Yonkers community.

I was seriously looking forward to this trip, as businesses that have a humanitarian aspect always have a special place in my heart. I’d already heard great things about Greyston and its socially responsible mission, so I was really excited to see the operations first hand (and eat some brownies, natch)!

The first part of the day was spent making our own custom batch of blondies in the Greyston test kitchen. This mini R&D lab is where Greyston come up with new flavor combinations for the brownies and test new products ideas (recent innovation: gluten-free cookies!)
The blogger crew – hairnet-ed and labcoat-ed! I debated whether or not to post this picture, seeing how unglamorous we look here. But I gotta keep it real with my readers – not all of us look like Sandra Lee when in the kitchen :-)
My batch of blondies! The toppings I used were: ground walnuts, whole pecans, white chocolate chips, and a dash of raisins in the corner (I was feeling slightly skeptical and uncertain about a raisin/blondie combo :-/)
While our blondies were baking, we took a tour (the “plunge”) of the production floor. Greyston’s brownies are all natural, made with only sugar, butter, flour, eggs, and Belgium chocolates – and are found in three of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavors as well as sold to many of New York’s top rated restaurants (who sometimes unscrupulously rebrand them as their own).

Cue “Sugar Sugar” song
Cold (Butter) Mountain…
Can I please bathe in this pool of sweet brownie batter?
Loading the trays on to the belt…
…to catch the brownie batter!
Hot like the Dickens oven room. Let’s just say the brownies were not the only thing baking there.
Brownie pieces getting sorted into boxes
Then, the most emotionally moving part of the day – a Q&A panel session with the workers on the floor of the Greyston plant. Greyston is known for its “open hiring” practice, where anyone can put their name on a list and be considered for employment (regardless of their background). My heart dropped upon seeing Dion, who had been working at the plant for 20 months (he counts in months since he is expecting a new baby soon), break down into tears when he told his story about how he came to the plant, and how working at Greyston really saved his life and gave him the opportunity to give his kids a better life.
After that deep and heavy session, we left the plant and visited the Greyston community garden, a collection of six community gardens maintained and cared for by local residents. A lovely oasis in an urban jungle!
When we came back, out brownies were cooled and ready to eat!
I was pretty full from the all-day-long eating spree, so I just had two small scoops of Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked and DMB's Magic Brownies ice cream (two of the flavors that use Greyston Bakery brownies). Greyston is the predominant supplier of brownies for B&J (and its main client), even though it actually costs Ben & Jerry’s more to use Greyston’s brownies in their ice creams. But B&J continues to support Greyston because they believe in Greyston’s mandala to give back to the community. The Ben & Jerry’s / Greyston Bakery relationship is truly beautiful and uncommon in the cutthroat world of business.

Before we all left, we were also given a box of “Do-Goodie” brownies, Greyston’s newest product that can be purchased directly by consumers that is sold on their website and through their twitter. Looks like I know what I’ll be getting my friends and family for Christmas this year!
Coming from the cutthroat world of Wall Street, I have seen the lengths that companies go to undercut their competition for an extra dollar. My visit to Greyston really helped restore my faith that a business can make money yet help the world.


Fun and Fearless in Beantown said...

Great post Athena! You look adorable in your lab coat :-) Seriously though, this seems like such a great cause!

ABostonFan said...

What a good cause and look at those yummy brownies!

Boston Food Diary said...

Great post! You got some amazing photos, and did a fantastic job recapping an incredible experience.

Elena said...

I actually work at Greyston and even I love it here! Thank you so much for visiting us!

Anonymous said...

Super post about a company I know well. The lives touched by the different services of the Greyston Foundation number in the 2000's annually. With that type of impact it must mean that those doing the work are truly special people. Kudos to them for their commitment to a worthy mission.

Unknown said...

I remember I saw them featured on 60 minutes a few years back - what an amazing company!
...And look at you in that hairnet!

Finance Foodie said...

@Carrisa Yeah! they showed the segment during our tour.

PS they don't sell cakes anymore

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