Greyston's history is rich and comes from a place of true caring and acceptance.
In 1982, Bernie Glassman, a Brooklyn-born Zen Buddhism teacher, was living with his students in a home called Greyston Mansion located north of Manhattan. Along with the Zen Community of New York (ZCNY), Bernie opened a small bakery café nearby as a way to employ the students.
The café successfully supported the students, but Bernie wanted to do more. His Buddhist beliefs drew him to community development and work with the homeless and unemployed. His opportunity came when the mayor of Yonkers invited the ZCNY to move the business to his city. At the time, Yonkers had the highest per capita homeless population in the country. The ZCNY sold Greyston Mansion, closed the café, and moved into one of Yonkers’ most troubled neighborhoods. There, an abandoned lasagna factory became home to Greyston Bakery.
Engaging the Community
None of those committed to this new operation were bakers or businesspeople. Starting capital was limited. A similar Buddhist-run bakery in San Francisco provided inspiration and training for the ZCNY workers at Greyston. After several years, the community began hiring people from the neighborhood. Many of these individuals had unstable lives, lacked education, or had spent time in prison.
It quickly became obvious that that employment was just one of the many unmet needs of the neighborhood. Glassman and his late wife, Sandra (also a Zen teacher) envisioned a nonprofit community development organization that would offer housing, jobs, social services, child care, and HIV-related health care. This was the beginning of Greyston’s community-based programming.
In the mid-1990s, Bernie left Yonkers to pursue other endeavors, but with the solid foundation he, Sandra, and others in the ZCNY community built, Greyston continues to thrive today.
Bernie Glassman and his wife, Sandra Jishu Holmes, founded Greyston Bakery in 1982 to support the Zen Buddhist student community Bernie had established in Riverdale. Bernie’s interest in community development, homelessness and unemployment caught the attention of the mayor of Yonkers who invited the bakery to move there. Bernie and Sandra accepted, and Greyston Bakery moved into one of Yonkers’ most troubled neighborhoods. Motivated by the Zen Buddhist belief in Right Livelihood, Bernie decided to open hiring at the bakery to meet the needs of the community. He hired anyone who needed a job.
Bernie met the co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Ben Cohen at the first Social Venture Network conference in 1987. They decided that ice cream and brownies would be the perfect mix. One year later, after some delicious R&D, Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream was born!
In 1992, Bernie and Sandra worked to expand Greyston’s mission by creating the Greyston Foundation, the bakery’s non-profit umbrella organization. The foundation’s programs include Workforce Development, Community Gardens and Issan House.
As sales grew, the bakery moved from its original Yonkers address at a repurposed lasagna factory to a purpose-built location that sat on a reclaimed brown site. Architect and artist, Maya Lin, who is renowned for her design of the Vietnam War Memorial, designed the new facility. The bakery’s hallmark feature is the streaming natural sunlight throughout.
In 2008, the bakery became a certified B Corp as part of B Lab’s movement of people using business as a force for good and went on to become the first state registered Benefit Corporation in New York a few years later. Today, there are B Corps all over the world, with more companies joining every day. Read more about Greyston’s B Corp activities on the B Lab site.
The Bakery launched its retail line of brownies at Whole Foods Market in 2012 starting with Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Brown Sugar Blondies. The retail line now consists of four flavors in multiple sizes.
In 2016, Greyston jumped into the world of vegan desserts available through its retail and inclusion lines. The R&D team is working hard at expanding vegan product options and plans to launch a Vegan Blondie in 2019.