Lisa Siroti is neither vegan nor a baker, yet somehow ended up running a vegan bakery as one half of an unlikely business duo. Papa Ganache in Matawan coexists in sweet symbiosis with a youth-oriented, community-based counseling and mentorship program known as the Papa Ganache Project. Before you ask if such an unlikely combination of services makes sense, Siroti has been running both operations (very successfully) for a decade and counting. Now, especially with the increase in demand for serious quality (increasingly high-caliber) vegan baked goods, and with the nation’s increasing focus on issues of psychological and mental health, Siroti finds herself sitting at the helm of a powerful, unique business concept that just might inspire similar in the Garden State and beyond.
We caught up with the Brooklyn native turned Jersey local to ask how, and why, she does it.
Table Hopping: You’re a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. How do you end up running a vegan bakery?
Lisa Siroti: The idea was never to open a bakery. I’m not a baker. I don’t even like to bake! I like to call it God’s funny little joke. I’m this nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn and, honestly, if 40 years ago somebody said to me “You’re either gonna be Queen of England and raise sheep in a meadow or run a vegan bakery/social service agency in Matawan, New Jersey,” I wouldn’t have guessed it would be the vegan bakery!
TH: How did you get here, then, meaning both Jersey and Papa Ganache?
LS: I moved out here about 20 years ago. When we moved to Matawan, it was also the beginning of Children’s System of Care, which provides intensive in-home and community therapeutic services for children and families. It’s probably the best kept secret in New Jersey. I started doing that kind of [in-home] work, meeting a lot of people, including another social worker who was a vegan baker, who always had this dream of owning a bakery.
At the end of services [for a client] he would bake something vegan for the children and one day he asked me to try it. I was one of those ridiculous people who thought vegan was going to taste like broccoli in a cupcake. I took a bite and that was it—I couldn’t believe something vegan could taste so good. Long story short, we put together our resources and concepts—his idea of running a bakery and my idea of wanting to run a social service agency.
TH: Is he still part of it?
LS: No, after about nine months, he realized it wasn’t for him.
TH: So even though the bakery was his part of the project, you stayed on overseeing both agency and the bakery? Did you have bakers?
LS: He left me with bakers. He was the head baker at the time, but we were able to manage. And since then, we’ve developed more and more to the place we are today. We’re going to be here 10 years next March!
TH: As a bakery alone, you guys put out some pretty good stuff, so you must have someone in charge of such a strong program?
LS: Yes, her name is Lauren Geffrey Knox. She’s been my head baker for about six years. But there’s a lot of people who have roles here, especially because we have two kitchens now. She spends most of her time at the gluten-free kitchen, since most of our wholesale is gluten-free.
TH: That’s right, you opened a second kitchen in Matawan, entirely gluten-free as well as vegan. Why?
LS: We wanted to have something dedicated for vegan, gluten-free baked goods. After I realized this was a very serious issue, I realized we needed to open a gluten-free kitchen. It’ll be two years this December. Quite frankly, it was a very good move. People see we respect their needs.
TH: How did the Papa Ganache Project come to be?
LS: The Papa Ganache Project started the same time as the bakery. It uses the bakery as a backdrop to work with children and families. Children come in to feel a part of the community of the bakery, to feel productive. It’s not about vocational skills or anything like that. We’ve had kids come who felt socially awkward just hang out and make boxes, help out with a variety of tasks.
TH: But the bakery does serious business—witness your Instagram. How do you work therapy services around—or into—that? Are the counselors trained in pastry? What are the clients baking?
LS: We’re a serious bakery; we have providers come in [with clients] after he baking is done, when the kitchen is available for the providers to come in with the children. We have our actual Papa Ganache recipes—they’re making mini recipes of our stuff! Anyone who works in the kitchen but isn’t part of the baking staff [like counselors with clients] has been trained in baking in the kitchen—not as an actual baker, but doing a brief “Baking 101.”
TH: What is it about baking specifically that helps with emotional and behavioral issues?
LS: In baking, you have to follow instruction. You have to have patience, just like you would dealing with some of the issues that happen in life every day. Following a recipe is like following the rules, taking direction—“Maybe not so much icing”—and understanding the negative impact of your behavior. But instead of icing and a cupcake, maybe somebody’s pulling hair and getting reprimanded. It’s about strengthening people’s ability to see that, raising their insight into their behavior so they can function at a high capacity and deal with challenges we endure in everyday life.
TH: Are the parents of child clients for the Papa Ganache Project surprised to find out that might involve a bakery? That it’s not all happening in an office?
LS: Surprised and delighted! At that point, when they come to us, families have tried lots of different things and traditional therapy hasn’t been effective, whereas our therapeutic process is about working with a child where the issues are, and bringing them into the bakery, at a remove from that, to try to process the challenges and behavioral concerns.
TH: Considering the success, do you ever think about replicating this unique business model?
LS: How can I put it? Never! No, people ask a lot. “Please build a bakery here!” But it’s a lot to own a bakery alone, and the social service agency, it’s a lot in a different way!
TH: But, especially with the second kitchen, you’re not averse to growth?
LS: No, we are growing—a lot! We’re trying to increase our wholesale market. Grocery stores, cafes, restaurants. All I need is a phone call!
Papa Ganache is located at 106 Main Street in Matawan, 732-217-1750. Their second location in Matawan is a gluten-free wholesale bakery (no retail). You can also find Papa Ganache in stores. “We sell to most of the Whole Foods in New Jersey and many of the ShopRites. We sell to some coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants.” The Papa Ganache Project is a separate business (they have an office behind the bakery), which can be reached by email or phone. Siroti notes they serve adults as well as children. “We’re solution-based, strengths-based. It’s not about a lifetime therapeutic relationship. It’s about giving you the tools you need to go out into the world and function at your highest capacity.” 732-970-8555Click here to leave a comment