YONKERS, NY — The year was 1982, and the late Bernie Glassman, an aeronautical engineer turned Zen Buddhist, did something good for the people on the streets outside of the Buddhist Greyston mansion in Riverdale, NY, near The Bronx. He asked them if they wanted to come inside and bake cakes.

That question set in motion 40 years of humanitarianism combined with product innovation that would become one of the most popular inclusions in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream — and change the way companies should think about their hiring practices.

It can be said that as a bakery, Greyston was founded more on social justice than a baked good.

“Bernie Glassman saw injustice, where there were people who wanted to work but couldn’t,” said Joe Kenner, Greyston president and CEO.

Changing lives through baked goods wasn’t necessarily the original plan.

In that Zen Buddhist community, the group was supporting themselves by making and selling cakes, and Glassman simply seized the moment.

“He literally pulled people off the streets when he saw them looking for work,” Kenner said. “He’d just say, ‘Hey, do you want to help us out by learning how to bake? You just have to show up for the job, and you can learn a trade that might help for long-term employment.’”

That was the genesis of Greyston’s open hiring policy, the cultural foundation that built the bakery. The company has a slogan: “We don’t hire people to bake brownies; we bake brownies to hire people.”


To Glassman, cakes were a means to providing life skills. After just a few years, Glassman found a kindred soul: Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s. The original idea was to produce chocolate cookies to make an ice cream cookie sandwich similar to a whoopie pie.

With no experience producing cookies, the idea flopped from a manufacturing perspective, but the product — which literally fell flat — inspired the now iconic chocolate fudge brownies still found in some best-selling Ben & Jerry’s varieties. And those inclusions put Greyston on the map in the baking industry as a legitimate manufacturer.

In manufacturing, a company’s core values can be woven throughout its culture or relegated to a sign on the wall or the employee handbook. But in Greyston’s case, Glassman’s goal never changed. Whether supplying inclusions to Ben & Jerry’s, outfitting a national airline or selling branded individual brownies in retailers such as Whole Foods nationwide, Greyston’s purpose, to this day, is steadfast: Employ those who mainstream society deems unemployable.

“We create thriving communities, and we’re showing how conscious capitalism can look,” Kenner said. “We sell a quality, premium product, with a marquee customer, and it’s made by folks who society would have otherwise cast aside.”

Anyone can walk up to the front door of the Yonkers, NY facility and get a job. The only requirement is an application … and patience (the current wait list has about 200 names, or a one-to-four-month wait).

While much of the baking industry is strategizing on workforce retention strategies, Greyston’s retention is inherent in its existence.

“Our workforce is loyal,” Kenner emphasized. “There have been so many stories over the years. When you talk to our people, you can see that this company has literally changed their life. It’s changed their whole trajectory in terms of where they would be if it weren’t for Greyston. And for me, that’s the real value of a company. You can call it economic development or social justice, but at the end of the day, you’re improving society.”

The loyalty comes from more than just the open hiring. It’s about the care Greyston takes in treating each open hire as a full human being. From hiring to training to a full array of personal and professional development resources, Greyston invests in moving its workforce “up” or “out.” With a staff resource specialist trained in social services, the goal for each worker is to gain the core competencies to move into higher-skilled positions or become employable elsewhere in the community.

“All you have to do is be willing to show up, take instruction and do a good job. We’ll take care of the rest. We can teach you how to be a maintenance person or baking apprentice. It doesn’t matter if you went to college or have 10 years experience, or even if you served time or just have an arrest record.” — Joe Kenner | president and CEO | Greyston


Management positions aside, the bakery is a place where anyone can come in to take an entry-level position and learn the bakery trade. Of about 120 total employees at the bakery, roughly 80 of them are open hires.

“All you have to do is be willing to show up, take instruction and do a good job,” Kenner said. “We’ll take care of the rest. We can teach you how to be a maintenance person or baking apprentice. It doesn’t matter if you went to college or have 10 years experience, or even if you served time or just have an arrest record.”

Greyston’s open hires average 16-17% above the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator for New York state, and many workers in leadership roles started as open hires. In fact, every department has at least one open hire.

Some might wonder, “But what’s it like to work there?” Easy: It’s just like any other manufacturing facility; there’s just no barrier to entry.

Anthony Norwood, an open hire now on the QA team, has worked for Greyston for nearly four years. John Wagonstein, also an open hire on the QA team, moved up after working the bakery floor for a year and has worked in quality for two years and counting. After spending a year on the bakery floor, Abigail Amegbedzi was promoted to the fulfillment department and is now a team lead.

When it comes to training and developing manufacturing skills, Greyston has the same GMP standards as any other baking company firmly in place, including the bakery’s SQF certification


There may be no barrier to entry for open hires but make no mistake: Expectations are high.

“You work your tail off and prove yourself, and you get noticed,” Wagonstein said.

For Greyston to serve customers like Unilever, the bakery can leave no room for slacking on the floor.

“Workers have to adhere to the standards,” Kenner said. “If they can’t, then yes, we’ll have to part ways. I tell everyone, ‘This is an opportunity, not a promise. It’s up to you to make it work.’”

This story has been adapted from the August | Q3 2022 issue of Commercial Baking. Read the full story in the digital edition here.