Walking into Ovenly’s new Bushwick production space will make you hungry. Bakers tend to a range of sweet treats like salted chocolate chip cookies, currant rosemary scones, banana bread, and Brooklyn Blackout cakes at every step of the process. There are croissants cooling, ovens taller than most people, a mesmerizing cookie scooping machine, and stacked cakes mid-frosting.
This wonderland of sugar marks a new chapter for Ovenly, a Greenpoint-based bakery that opened in 2012. Founders Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga met in a food-focused book club. Within a few weeks they were discussing business plans. Today, the bakery has four locations, in Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Park Slope and midtown Manhattan, over 150 wholesale partners and a thriving ecommerce business that ships cakes and cookies nationwide (conversation cookie hearts for Valentine’s Day were a huge hit). They recently opened a test kitchen and events space in Greenpoint, which offers baking classes and will open a backyard this summer.
The space is five times larger than their previous production facility, a 1200-square-foot kitchen in their original Greenpoint bakery, which they had long outgrown. According to Kulaga, “we had reached capacity about two years ago and were just making it work.” At the Bushwick space, there are finally rack ovens, three walk-in fridges (Kulaga no longer has “walk in envy” when visiting friends’ businesses) and more storage facilities.
They’re excited to be in a new neighborhood and Kulaga says they “plan on being in the space for quite some time. There’s space we can grow into.” This summer, they also plan to expand the seating at the Greenpoint flagship, now that production has moved elsewhere.
Securing the already built-out space was the serendipitous result of a conversation Kulaga had with Josh Tupper at the new Russ and Daughters in the Navy Yard, “This used to be their bakery commissary and the contractor of the Navy Yard space owned the building. He told me to go talk to her and I saw the space the next day. Lease negotiations began immediately.” While Ovenly hadn’t been actively looking for a new space, they needed to grow and are glad to be able to stay in Brooklyn to easily service their stores and wholesale clients.
The team arrived in late March and is still settling in, figuring out how to use the space efficiently. Director of Kitchen Operations Karen DeMasco is leading this effort and Kulaga, the COO, is spending time there to get things in order and maximize efficiencies with the help of a consultant. The transition has been invigorating for the team.
“Everyone is happier here,” said Kulaga. “There’s an inspiring feeling of moving into a brand new space and being able to start fresh and set things up the way we want rather than inheriting a system created with limited space.”
Ovenly has open hiring practices, meaning a resume is not required for entry level jobs. They partner with organizations including the Ansob Refugee Center, the Center for Employment Opportunities, Seedco, and Drive Change to recruit and hire people from marginalized backgrounds or who otherwise denied economic opportunities. About 40 percent of their back of house staff comes from these programs, which helps Ovenly have a diverse staff and provide opportunities.
Kulaga and Patinkin are focused on career development and creating quality jobs, “[By] building a workforce that we feel good about, that will hopefully set an example for other businesses in terms of what can be done with people from all walks of life.” Kulaga sees a retention rate well above industry average, with a number of staff members who have worked there for over two years.
The larger production space also offers more room to test new products and categories, like a line of stuffed cookies coming out soon. One will be a peanut butter cookie stuffed with jelly and the other is a campfire inspired graham cracker and hot chocolate mashup. Ovenly creates monthly specials, including an Earth Month cupcake with cocoa buttercream and candied rosemary. The cafes are also offering Monday specials to guests who bring reusable cups, containers and totes, as part of their overall sustainability goals. Through composting, Ovenly has reduced their waste by 63 percent and they donate imperfect products to the Greenpoint Reform Church.
Ovenly’s footprint will continue to grow with two new locations this year, including one in an airport. In Bushwick, you can try the bakery’s signature cookies, cupcakes, and caramel brownies at wholesale partners including Brooklyn Kava, Milk & Pull, Cypress Inn Cafe, and Father Knows Best. In Ridgewood, the treats are available at Topos Bookstore and 1080 Brew.
Cover images courtesy of Ovenly.
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