Where Therapy Is a Piece of Cake

Papa Ganache in Keyport is more than just your average bakery.

Behavioral assistant Jordan Mulvey, of Hazlet, demonstrates how to ice a cupcake to girls in the program, including Melody Fennell, 16, of Highlands.
Photo by Marc Steiner/Agency New Jersey.

“Bye, Spaghetti Head.”

 “See ya, Chicken Hat.”

Such an exchange is not exactly customary between a pastry cook and those exiting the bakery where she works. But Papa Ganache in Keyport doesn’t fit anybody’s description of a regular bakery.

For one thing, it’s vegan: cupcakes like the Drenched Elvis (banana cake, chopped peanuts, peanut-butter “buttercream,” ganache and a banana chip, $3.50 each) and special-order cakes, muffins, cookies and pies are whipped up daily without eggs and dairy. The 2,100-square-foot shop also specializes in gluten-free cookies and cakes.

But for another, the relatively new shop—it opened in March 2010—doubles as a makeshift social-service agency called the Papa Ganache Project—Strengths Development Program. Owner Lisa Siroti of Matawan is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist. And though she works with children with behavorial challenges and their families in Monmouth County, she also brings children ages 5 to 21 into the bakery, where she and her team adminster an unorthodox kind of program. 

“Think of it: The process of baking is about having patience,” Siroti says. “That’s something we teach.” 

The process can also be an exercise in team building, conflict resolution and socialization. “I could have two kids working together here, and one could say, ‘Oh, I want to mix,’” Siroti says. “Then we have an intervention. We teach them how to handle it.” The next thing you know, she says, “One is saying to the other, ‘Hey, do you want to take a turn mashing the banana?’”

Area children with challenges ranging from poor self-image to anger management to lack of productivity come under the wings of Siroti and her team, which includes behavioral assistants, therapists and mentors, at the tidy, old-fashioned-looking bakery. The kids stay a couple of hours; many are seen daily. Children who complete the program at the Papa Ganache Project are encouraged to return as volunteers.

“It’s a way to keep them feeling connected to the community,” says Siroti.

Eight-year-old Donovan Pope of Keansburg (who behavioral assistant Jordan Mulvey of Hazlet called Spaghetti Head, and who Pope in turn referred to, affectionately, as Chicken Hat) recently came in for a session involving brownie  and cookie baking with his brother, Dwayne Pope, 9.
At Papa Ganache, says Donovan, “we learn about respecting elders, respecting plants and animals.”

Adds Dwayne, “We try to change our thoughts when our thoughts are scary or bad.”

Nothing the kids make is sold, but nothing is wasted, either. They create kid-size batches, and what they produce is usually brought home or to school. Meanwhile, professional bakers fill the display cases with tempting baked goods for sale.

“The best thing we have going for us is our product,” says Siroti, meaning she wouldn’t want to taint that by selling anything she herself or the kids make.  

“What was the word I taught you?” asks Siroti, turning her attention to Dwayne. “It’s called coping what?”

“Coping strategies,” he answers. “You can use different strategies like taking a walk or reading a book or looking at the water when you have bad thoughts.”

If you are lucky enough to be a Papa Ganache Project kid when a bad thought strikes, you have another option: You can look forward to eating that cupcake you are making.

Papa Ganache, 25 Church Street, Keyport; 732-217-1750; papaganache.com. In addition to the bakery and the website, Papa Ganache products are sold at the Red Bank Farmer’s Market at the Galleria, Funk + Standard in Red Bank, Dean’s Market in Shrewsbury, Cafe Vivian at Princeton University and Via Roma in Toms River.

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