Shiri Reuveni-Ullrich calls Rising Above Bakery her “bakery-ish.”
That’s because all the stirring, kneading, pinching, mixing and baking for the nonprofit, which teaches young adults with special needs and learning differences the craft of baking, takes place in her Chestnut Ridge dining room. Goods are then sold at area farmers market, though the bulk of the business is custom orders for pick up.
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Reuveni-Ullrich and a helper currently work with six volunteer bakers, who range in age from 20 to 30; all have different diagnoses. The effort, which began in January, has quickly outgrown her house.
“I’d love to bring in more bakers; I want to help everyone,” she said. “But we need a larger space.” (The goal is to find something by next year.)
On a recent visit, it was apparent Reuveni-Ullricht could use more space, with bakers dancing around the hot oven and two work stations to produce their baked goods.
And produce they do. Babkas, cookies, crackers, granola and loaves upon loaves of crusty, gorgeously proportioned breads in a variety of shapes, sizes and varieties — think pita, rye, multi-grain, olive rosemary, semolina sweet potato, cinnamon raisin, and oats and figs. She even has gluten-free varieties, along with a chickpea bread, inspired by a recent visit to Israel (and her love of falafel). Not to mention the spelt crackers which seem to fly out the door.
In total, this small cottage industry bakery churns out 30 different items, all of which are 100% sourdough-based with no commercial yeast and as much locally sourced ingredients as possible. All items are also organic.
Everything Reuveni-Ullrich takes on requires forethought, as she has to teach her bakers basic skills, such as measuring and using a scale. It’s why she always starts them with granola because “if you make a mistake, it’s not a big deal,” she said.
Despite the education that happens in her dining room, Reuveni-Ullrich stresses this is a bakery, not a training program. As the effort is a 501c3 charity, bakers are not paid, although she hopes that through donations she can eventually give them a stipend. A campaign for funds started last week. Most bakers work twice a week for three to four hours. All the proceeds from the sale of products goes directly back into the bakery to cover expanses.
Her goal for Rise Above Bakery is for her bakers to grow with her, acquire new skills, and eventually have full-times jobs.
Daniel Kuiken of Glen Rock, New Jersey, who has been with the “bakeryish” since the summer, can already make cookies from start to finish with little supervision. Same for Connor Carson of Cresskill, New Jersey, who has been baking with Reuveni-Ullrich since the beginning (his mom is on her Board of Directors). As a nonprofit, Reuveni-Ullrich does have a six-person Board of Directors, which includes people in the hospitality, education business and marketing business
Baking is a far cry from her days as a speech pathologist for special needs children, a profession she was in for more than 20 years. An avid baker, Reuveni-Ullrich got the idea for Rising Above Bakery when she noticed the dramatic effect baking cookies had on her nonverbal, autistic young adult students.
“The kitchen was filled with humming, singing and laughter and was so lively, I knew I needed to create a bakery to help individuals with disabilities live meaningful, independent lives,” she said.
The bakery was two years in the making. Her original goal was to open a storefront. “I really wanted to model to the community that we’re all equal and able to do any tasks,” she said.
But then COVID-19 hit and like everyone else, she had to pivot. Hence: her dining room.
The pandemic meant few volunteers as people were fearful of leaving their homes, but slowly, through her connections in the community (and word of mouth), several signed on.
Carson said he really enjoys baking with Reuveni-Ullrich, especially when it comes to shaping the breads and learning about the process. “I love to bake,” he said. “And it’s much better than staying home all day.”
He was quick to thank his mom for doing “the hard work” to get him into Rising Above. “I feel so proud to do this,” he said.
Similarly, Kuiken feels pride in his work. He was especially pleased that an idea he had for a chocolate chip cookie sandwich was something Reuveni-Ullrich took to heart. Rising Above is now experimenting with different flavor combinations. (For the record, he likes “anything chocolate.”)
“I let Daniel lead on his cookie idea and he owns it, which is really cool,” said Reuveni-Ullrich. “Part of this process is to take creative ideas, develop recipes and build on skills.
“Baking together also involves vocabulary which, for those with limited verbal individuals, is not so easy. They have to say more than ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it,’ so we work on refining that.”
As much as creating and producing is important, so, too is socialization.
“I want this to be as fun as possible,” said Reuveni-Ullrich. So, when items are cooling, the bakers retreat to the kitchen where — pardon the pun — they break bread, slathering on butter and enjoying the fruits of their labors before heading back to the dining room.
“Encouraging socializing is important,” said Reuveni-Ullrich. “I might be a baker but you can’t take the speech therapist out of me.”
Find her baked goods
Breads start at $8 and go to $15. Order online; pick up locations include Hudson on Main in Nyack, Fish Dock in Closter, New Jersey, Mindful Café in Ramsey, New Jerse and at her home in Chestnut Ridge. Details at risingabovebakery.org or call 646-541-4595
Jeanne Muchnick covers food and dining. Click here for her most recent articles and follow her latest dining adventures on Instagram @lohud_food or via the lohudfood newsletter.