September 19, 2016
Lisa Siroti is both the brains and brawn behind the Matawan, New Jersey-based vegan bakery—and loyal Ace customer–Papa Ganache. A Brooklyn native, Lisa was captivated by the West Village during the ’60s and ’70s and ended up dropping out of school as a teenager. At age 43, she returned to the world of academia and earned a degree from NYU’s Silver School of Social Work—right across the square from where she’d hung out as a kid. Read on to learn how Lisa’s path as a social worker led her to open the first all-vegan bakery in New Jersey…Hi Lisa! Thanks for chatting with us! Can you tell us how Papa Ganache came to be?
It’s kind of God’s funny joke. Working as a social worker, I met a fellow social worker who was a vegan baker. His life dream was to open a vegan bakery. We became friends and for 5 years he tried to get me to taste something that he baked vegan, but I refused–having ridiculous, primitive ideas about vegan food. I thought everything would taste like broccoli! We had a celebration for a child we worked with and he made some cupcakes and cornered me saying, “You have to try this Orange Creamsicle cupcake.” I couldn’t believe how good it was—it was amazing. From there the idea of blending a vegan bakery and a social service agency was born. Papa Ganache and the Papa Ganache Project opened in Keyport, NJ in March 2000. About 9 months after we opened, my partner left the business. Not a vegan nor a baker, but having invested money, time and energy, I was determined to make it work. And I did. Two years later, we moved from Keyport to Main Street, Matawan, and Papa Ganache will have been open for 7 years in March 2017.There is some overlap between your social service agency (Papa Ganache Project-Strengths Development Program) and the bakery. Can you explain how the two businesses complement each other?
The Papa Ganache Project-Strengths Development Program provides intensive in-home and community services to children and families through the Children System of Care for the State of NJ Child Behavioral Health. Our administrative office is located behind the bakery and we use it as a backdrop for the social service agency, bringing children and families to the bakery to be a part of our world. By making them feel productive and a part of our community we have seen an increase in self-esteem and confidence. We’ve had children who had interest in baking volunteer in the kitchen and we also host parent support groups in the Papa Ganache café. As a non-vegan who has run a vegan bakery for 7 years, have you ever considered switching to a vegan diet?
I can’t tell you how much I respect veganism and the philosophy [but when] people come in and ask, “Is everything vegan?” I say: “Everything is vegan except me!” My preoccupation was always about providing amazingly delicious vegan and gluten-free food for people who need to be vegan and gluten-free due to health restrictions. My biggest thrill is when a kid who has allergies comes in wearing a sad face asking, “What can I eat?” And I’m like, “Oh wow. You see this counter over here, and that counter over there, and all the jars on that shelf? You can have anything you want!” It still makes me tearful in that moment when children young and old can choose from our wide array of amazingly delicious treats.You also have a lot of gluten-free items…
We do! We make rainbow cookies, cheesecake cups, pecan bars, s’mores bars, Cookies, apple pie pizza, “chipwiches,” brownies, monkey bread and cinnamon buns–all vegan and gluten-free–and that’s just to name a few! When I run into the kitchen with an idea, the bakers love the challenge of creating my vision. At the same time, they are inspired to come up with their own wonderful morsels of deliciousness for our customers to savor. I am truly blessed with a wonderful team.
We’re now in the process of exploring an expansion and building a 100 % gluten-free kitchen to better accommodate our customers and be more credible out in the world. We realize that being vegan, dairy-free, allergen-free, and gluten-free is not a trend–it’s here to stay. We are also mostly organic and are working towards becoming even more so.Papa Ganache famously won Cupcake Wars in 2013. What was that experience like?
It was very cool. It was in the middle of Hurricane Sandy so we were the underdogs from the beginning…there were challenges just to get out to California. Our bakers had to drive to Ohio to catch their plane due to all of the airport closures at home, but they got there, competed, and won! We had a big celebration to commemorate the win and our victory created lots of curiosity. There were definitely more people in the community coming in and checking us out after Cupcake Wars.There are a few cupcakes on the menu that are super unusual. Are any of those from Cupcake Wars?
Yes! In this competition you are given a list of ingredients and you have to use at least a few to create your cupcakes. Our list was comprised of some pretty odd things that you would never put in a cupcake–like Brussels sprouts and baloney! So our bakers came up with a Carrot Brussels Sprout Curry Cupcake topped with cream cheese frosting and maple-curry reduction. When these cupcakes are baking, it smells just like Thanksgiving in the kitchen. Two of our most popular cupcakes were also created as a result of the show, the Crème Brûlée Cupcake and the Chocolate Salted Caramel Pretzel Cupcake. They are in our case every day. To learn more about Papa Ganache visit their website or find them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Thank you so much, Lisa!
Images: Instagram @papaganachetheveganbakery & www.papaganache.com