A brownie bakery with a “great, big, disruptive idea”
If you’ve had a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream with brownies in it, like the Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream, you’ve had Greyston Bakery’s products. Greyston has been baking brownies and cookies for wholesale and retail since 1982, when Bernie Glassman, a Brooklyn native and Zen Buddhist, first opened the bakery in Yonkers, NY. And from the beginning, what made the company stand out was its practice of “open hiring.”
“Open hiring means that anyone who wants to have a job and experience the dignity of work at the bakery puts their name on a list, gives us their cell phone number, and when their name gets to the top of the list, they get a job. Period. Full Stop. No questions asked,” says Jonathan Halperin, the head of external affairs at Greyston.
Even if a person has been previously incarcerated or is homeless, they can find a job at Greyston—no interviews, no resume perusals, no background checks. With numerous studies showing that it’s extremely difficult for ex-offenders to find a job and rebuild their lives after prison, open hiring is a radical idea that could give a hand up to tens of thousands if widely embraced.
It’s worked out well for the company. Halperin says that the worker success stories far outnumber any challenges.
For example, Greyston worker Dion gave this testimonial to his bosses: “If not for Greyston, I would be on the streets. Nine years later, I’ve been promoted, and I spend every day mentoring new employees.”
Halperin says one person getting employed helps not only them, but also their community: “For the person’s partner, the person’s neighbors, the community, there’s a positive ripple effect that’s created.”
Since opening its doors, Greyston’s Bakery has hired over 3,000 employees through its open-hiring initiative and produces 35,000 brownies a day, which contain fair trade ingredients and are made with zero preservatives.
The company has new Chocolate Chunk and Harvest cookies sold at Whole Foods, too.
Now, Halperin says, the company is looking at expanding its practices to the rest of the country.
“We are opening up the Center for Open Hiring at Greyston,” he says. “We are hoping to teach the practice that we have been refining for 35 years to other companies.”
The socially minded bakery is also taking steps toward a zero-waste future and has installed solar panels on its roof.
Greyston Bakery is a for-profit business, but even so, much of those profits go toward numerous programs aimed at lifting up both Greyston employees and all of Yonkers. One of the most prominent is a community housing program that provides a combination of free and paid housing for individuals struggling with mental and emotional health and for people affected by HIV. The bakery also heads community gardens located in ten sites across the city, an Early Learning Center to provide affordable day care and early childhood education to children in the area, and a Workforce Development programs that allow young adults in the community to take classes and work with other companies to gain valuable career experience.
Greyston wants other communities to benefit from its practices. As a green business working for both people and the planet, Halperin says the idea is that as the business grows, the employees grow with it.
“We don’t hire people to make brownies. We make brownies to hire people,” says Halperin. “And by that we mean that the purpose of Greyston is to provide employment opportunities to people who generally are not offered them. It’s a pathway to a better life.”