Helene Godin is the founder of By the Way Bakery, a 100% gluten free bakery that is also dairy-free and Kosher. Those of us on the East Coast are lucky enough to have not just one location to visit, but two! Her bakeries can be found in Westchester and in NYC on the Upper West Side. Helene and I sat down together in her quaint NYC storefront to chat about her passion for her business.
I loved what I did as a lawyer, but one day I decided I was done. I had accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish in that particular profession, so I quit not knowing exactly what I would do next. I love food, and I love people. I quickly came up with the idea of a bakery. I didn’t bake at all at the time, but I did love the concept of something very local, interesting, and rooted in my community. Then I noticed that the gluten free section in the supermarket was expanding exponentially. I thought that if I could come up with good enough recipes that people without a gluten issue could enjoy and people with a gluten issue would be willing to travel for – I’d hit a home run.
Are you gluten free yourself?
I avoid gluten, but the advantage of being in my position is that I can taste everything that’s out there. I can taste conventional baked goods and make a determination on whether we can replicate them and then, once we try, ask if we’ve done so successfully.
What was your biggest challenge in learning to bake gluten free?
When I was a lawyer, my husband did all of the cooking, and I was the crazy mom racing home from the office to sit down to the dinner he prepared. So I didn’t know the difference between bake and broil!
(laughs) It’s interesting if you try to broil a cupcake!
And I did several times! (laughs) It was a huge learning curve, but I viewed it as problem solving and loved it. I was tenacious. I think I made fifty-two versions of our chocolate chip cookie before I was happy with it.
Well, it is a very good chocolate chip cookie. I also LOVE your almond cookie, which was named “Best Cookie in Westchester”. What is your favorite thing on the menu?
That is such a hard question…the Coconut Chiffon Cake. It’s a coconut layer cake with vanilla chiffon frosting and toasted coconut on the outside. Nice and light – sort of summery and tropical.
I spoke with two of your staff members last week and asked if either of them were gluten free. They said no but that they wanted to work here because the food is incredible. That’s such a great thing to hear gluten-eaters say about a gluten free bakery.
It’s fabulous. I’d imagine that about 60% of our customers are not gluten free. Both venues are also dairy free and Kosher, so we fulfill many needs. And some people come because they just love the baked goods! It’s my favorite thing when a gluten free person says, “I didn’t know this was dairy-free,” a dairy-free person says, “I didn’t know this was gluten free”, and the Kosher person says, “I didn’t know it was either!”
What has been your greatest reward in opening the bakery?
The people I’ve met. There is nothing better than getting a note that says “My son had his first birthday cake ever, and none of his friends knew it was gluten free – everyone loved it!” I’ve always been a caregiver, and my customers are my family. I take care of them – they are my guests. I want to bring joy to their table.
What are your favorite projects to work on in the bakery?
I’m really into cake decorating at the moment. I have a team of cake decorators who do a spectacular job and are gifted when it comes to frosting. We’ve now started doing some edible images, and that’s been really fun. For example, for Father’s Day we’re doing layer cakes with neck ties.
How cute! Are you working on anything else?
We’re very excited because we’re working on gluten free artisanal challah. It’s a gorgeous, delicious, and has an old fashioned presentation. We also periodically introduce seasonal tarts, so I’m hoping that we’ll have some mini fresh fruit tarts within the next couple of weeks.
What advice would you give to amateur gluten free bakers?
Don’t give up! (laughs) Bake – bite – throw out – and start again. It’s really a matter of trial and error because the ingredients are so precarious. Just keep trying.
What would you like people to know about your bakery?
Everything is made with love. We make it all in small batches. I have a tremendous, dedicated staff. It’s really important to us that the kitchen is a cohesive, happy group because I truly believe that comes through in the food.
For more information on By the Way Bakery visit www.btwbakery.com
And while you’re there, be sure to try my personal favorites from the menu – Almond Cookie and Coconut Chiffon Cake!