/She Sold Audible To Amazon, Then Built NYC’s Top Gluten-Free Bakery Chain And Won Over Whole Foods

She Sold Audible To Amazon, Then Built NYC’s Top Gluten-Free Bakery Chain And Won Over Whole Foods


As a lady, Helene Godin by no means had an Easy Bake oven, nor did this register as a deprivation. She’d have been the final one to anticipate that at some point she’d create the dominant chain of gluten-free bakeries within the Northeast, which is what her By the Way Bakery has shortly develop into, rising to 4 retail areas to this point and discovering its manner into 47 Whole Foods Markets and counting.

Helene Godin in her By the Way Bakery. Photo credit score: Helen B. Phillips

Instead, way back to she will keep in mind, Godin needed to be a lawyer. She was a legal-minded Hermione Granger, the form of child I image handing over an unsolicited authorized temporary for additional credit score in Junior High.  But in 2010, after a staggeringly profitable 22-year authorized profession, together with stints as exterior counsel for Columbia Records (later Sony Music), in-house counsel for Reader’s Digest and NBC, and General Counsel for Audible, the place she and her group facilitated the sale of the much-loved firm to Amazon, she landed, lastly, as counsel for Bloomberg’s information operation and shortly knew that her dream-come-true had run its course. “Every job I’ve had has taught me something. And what my two years with Bloomberg taught me was that I was done. Done with the law. Done with the corporate world, period.”

Four days of post-retirement boredom

It solely took 4 days of post-lawyering retirement for Helene to search out herself, she tells me, “bored out of my skull.” In an try and hold her sanity, this non-domestic goddess signed up for one of many solely enrichment lessons–“why not? I was bored”–she might discover domestically, which turned out to be “Vegan Baking Bootcamp.” She additionally took her first leisurely go to to a grocery store in years (“I hadn’t done more than dash in and back out in years, practically with the engine running”), a visit that set her enterprise antennae tingling; gluten-free merchandise have been getting what struck her as an inordinate –or, she began to assume, ordinate–quantity  of shelf house in her native grocery.

“I sensed an opportunity, something that could mesh with my desire to do something non-corporate and non-lawyerly that could be pulled off right in the adorable little town where I live”–Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, which, it pained her to comprehend, she had barely had an opportunity to see throughout daylight.

As her plan to open a bakery started to type, “my family quickly offered the reasonable objection, ‘Helene, you don’t know how to bake.’ I said, ‘I’ll pick it up.’  ‘But Mom, we’ve had to tell you for years, ‘it’s bake, not broil—charred muffins are not a thing.’ Again, I told them, ‘I’ll pick it up.  And, by the way, it’s going to be not just a bakery, but a gluten-free bakery. And not just a gluten-free bakery, but a gluten-free bakery where everything we’ll offer will taste as good as, or better, than, products baked without ingredient constraints.’”

By the Way Bakery Hastings-on-Hudson Storefront. Photo credit score: Leslie Kahan, Leslie Kahan Photography

This hardcore insistence was on the middle of Godin’s ethos, and supplied the identify for what quickly could be Godin’s rising empire: Customers must be so delighted with how her baked items style that the truth that they’re gluten-free, non-dairy, and kosher (I’ll get to that) must be subordinated to the standing of an “oh, by the way” element. “This was, from the very starting, going to be a top-flight bakery, interval. I wasn’t going to open for enterprise except I used to be in a position to supply baked items that have been nearly as good as typical baked items, if not higher.”

She hoped that such a uniqueness of positioning would afford By the Way Bakery the flexibility to thrive regardless of one other, bodily, constraint. “Locating the bakery in the town where I live required violating a rule of retail: that you want 360-degree access, a store that people can access from all directions. Hastings is on the Hudson River. So it was cut off at 180. I needed to create a strong enough pull that it would convince people to travel.”

I instructed that they may come have come aboard a ship, however she wasn’t having it. “Boaters are a limited market, Micah–and we don’t have a dock.”

This ambition was straightforward to aspire to and fiendishly difficult to drag off. Without wheat or butter, Helene needed to deal with reaching perfection with the remaining elements that have been out there to her.  It grew to become shortly clear how exhausting this may be to get proper; you’ll be able to’t simply swap in a single cup of gluten-free rice flour to interchange one cup of wheat flour and count on to get the identical outcomes. “Gluten-free baking requires a mix, and I spent a very long time taking part in with ratios to get that mix proper, a flour combine that will work with the six core recipes I felt my bakery would want to have the ability to open: the blueberry muffin, the standard brownie, the chocolate layer cake, and so forth.  Once I lastly had that labored out, the flour combine was on lock down. From that time ahead, if a brand new recipe didn’t work with the flour combine, I wouldn’t use that recipe.”

Micah:       “And you were doing all this where?”

Helene:      “In my home kitchen.”

“I created every recipe myself; I really threw myself into it. I had no training, but I was fearless. It was bake, bite, throw out. Bake, bite, throw out. Just keep doing it. Tweaking, learning as I go. Using myself and my neighbors as the tasters.”

Micah:       “Because they were going to be your customers anyway.”

Helene:      “They were going to be my customers. Exactly.”

Godin insisted on constructing her bakery from scratch fairly than taking what may need been a extra typical retirement-business strategy for somebody with a couple of dollars within the financial institution and strong credit score as well: shopping for an already operational enterprise. As she had been on the recipes, she was hands-on in each different side as properly. Though she engaged exterior designers for retailer design and brand creation, she labored shoulder-to-shoulder with them on each.

Micah:       “I expect Seth chimed in on the logo design, no?”  (Helene’s uncommon final identify could have you ever questioning if she’s associated to advertising guru Seth Godin. “I get that query quite a bit; so, Micah, please set the document straight in your readers. Not solely do I do know Seth Godin, I’ve had marital relations with Seth Godin,” she tells me in her greatest legalese. (The two Godins have been collectively since they have been faculty sweethearts again at Tufts.)

Helene: He did chime in; in fact he did. It was fairly amusing, as a result of his recommendations have been on level–however on level for if it had been Seth’s brand, not mine: ‘I love your logo, but I’d like it extra in purple and orange.’”

Micah:       “Yes. That would be an ideal Seth Godin shade scheme.”

Helene:      “Right. But for me? Not a lot. And this was my factor”

Helene Godin with muffins from her By the Way Bakery. Photo credit score: Julie Bidwell

The first By the Way Bakery location opens for enterprise

In 2011, virtually precisely a 12 months after Helene had left Bloomberg, the primary By the Way Bakery opened in Hastings-on-Hudson, initially with what can solely be known as “hobby” hours: Wednesday to Saturday, 9:00 to five:00 and Sunday, 9:00 to 2:00. But a stroke of luck shortly made that pastime strategy anachronistic when Helene’s enterprise, then barely a month outdated, was featured on the quilt of the New York Times’ Style part, bringing an instantaneous inflow of enterprise. “I believe everybody I’ve ever recognized noticed that article. My mom truly stated to me, “So, how a lot did you pay to have The New York Times write that article?,” and I discovered myself explaining, “Mom, Iraq doesn’t pay to be in the paper, and neither did I.”

Finding her manner into Whole Foods

Having been thrust into full-time enterprise operation, Helene shortly grew a brand new obsession: discovering a manner into Whole Foods. “Once the business was working on a small scale, I completely caught the bug. I liked what I was doing: I liked running a business, I liked working with bakers, I liked being creative. And, now, I wanted to grow. It felt to me that the next step would be to get our food into a like-minded operation with like-minded customers. To me, that meant Whole Foods.”

She was utterly with no plan for making this occur, past relying on her vitality and persistence to get her in. “I didn’t know the way this stuff labored; I simply actually would pack up my stuff and produce them to the 2 Whole Foods shops nearest me hoping to run into the fitting particular person. And, in truth, at some point I did, as a result of when you give something sufficient time, it could possibly work.

By the Way Bakery’s “Amy Cake.” Photo credit score: Quentin Street

This preliminary contact resulted in an invite to compete in a regional New Product Category Review (a bakeoff) in February of 2013, and shortly Helene was fortunately having her merchandise bought, on a small scale, to her native White Plains and Yonkers shops. This self-confessed “terrible driver” made a lot of the deliveries herself in her mini Cooper; when that proved too small, she graduated her supply operation to a roomier Subaru. For two years, “life was good, because I had [Whole Foods] bragging rights, but I didn’t need to worry about producing more than my tiny kitchen could handle.”

“Call me in a year.”

This equilibrium collapsed in late 2014 when Helene bought a name from Jay Jay, a Whole Foods worker who was engaged on the opening of a brand new Whole Foods on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  With nice fanfare, he advised Helene that By the Way had been chosen to provide baked items for the “grab & go” of that new retailer, which Whole Foods’ calculations predicted could be one of many busiest within the nation.

Helene’s response?  “Call me in a year,” as soon as her little bakery had its geese in a row. Jay Jay politely advised her that this was a one-time supply, and implied, once more politely, that she’d be loopy to not settle for it. So, she took a deep breath, and on the finish of that breath, heard herself say, “Of course!”

This invitation proved transformational. Not solely did orders from the brand new Upper East Side retailer pour in, By the Way merchandise quickly discovered their manner into all of Whole Foods’ Manhattan areas by fall of 2016, then expanded outward within the tri-state space (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut) space. With the Subaru clearly inadequate to deal with deliveries, By the Way signed with a distributor in late 2018, permitting them to have their merchandise in all 47 shops in Whole Foods’ Northeast Region.

Goin’ Kosher  

In addition to being gluten-free and dairy-free, By the Way is Kosher-certified. (That final designation might not be a giant draw the place you dwell, but it surely goes a good distance in New York and, apart from, says Godin, “my Bubbie [grandmother] is kvelling [welling with pride] from above.”) Running a bakery that’s kosher in addition to gluten-free could be difficult. Helene tells me she got here up with a brand new tackle honey cake for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.   “A Jewish honey cake is just like the fruitcake for Christmas; it’s equally, universally, loathed. So, we got here up with one thing higher. A citrus rum soak with walnuts added to the combination. I am going forward and put it on the menu, and I’m actually excited till I get a word from the Rabbi, “You know, it’s customary to avoid walnuts on Rosh Hashanah.”

Micah:       “Oh, no.”

Helene:      “‘Because walnuts tend to dry your mouth and when you are praying you want to pray as clearly as possible.’”

Micah:       “Because God might misunderstand you?”

Helene:  “While​ ​’He’s God, he’ll determine it out’ could have briefly handed by means of my thoughts, the fact is, I do love studying new issues. Just generally I’d fairly study them earlier than ​I’ve put ​an merchandise on the menu.”

Moving into the long run

“Everything was baked until the end of 2016 in the back of our Hastings store. So we had 400 square feet of retail in front and 800 square feet in back. It was super, super tiny. We had to make the same batter five times because we didn’t have enough room for a big enough mixer, which was insanely inefficient. Then in September of 2016 we opened a 7,200 square foot commissary in Pleasantville, New York–20 minutes from Hastings–just three turns. Even a terrible driver like me handle it. And the best thing is that it includes a ‘perch,’ where I make my office, five feet up with big windows that overlook the kitchen.”

Micah:       “Does it have a corner? Is it a corner office?”

Helene:      “It’s a corner, but the only window is into the bakery. The other wall backs up to the ladies’ room.”

Micah:       “Oh, so you’re the bathroom monitor. Great, everyone wants their boss to be the bathroom monitor.”

Helene:      “I can’t truly see that door. But what I am watching are the cake decorators and Ruben on the sheeter making tarts. It offers me nice pleasure. As does sitting down at Thanksgiving and having the ability to image all of the individuals who sit down and eat issues that I performed a job in. The concept that I introduced some sweetness to their life makes me actually completely happy.”

****

Even although Helene, apparently, permits herself to take a seat down annually for Thanksgiving, it’s clear that By the Way Bakery is all-consuming. I used to be questioning if it’s modified her relationships with others, who maybe don’t see her as a lot as they used to. She says it hasn’t, “because I was always all in.  All in as a lawyer, every day of the week.”

Micah: “And you’re still all in.”

Helene:      “And I’m nonetheless all in.  I had a canine and pony simply yesterday with a prestigious chain, a high-end quick informal that has a catering facet, that’s on the lookout for bread. They stated, ‘Do we get a discount if we order 10,000 rolls?’”

“Of course, the answer has to be, ‘Let’s wait till you order 10,000 rolls to discuss discounts.’ But it’s very exciting to think about.”



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