The duo behind inventive pastry bakery Ovenly is about to spread their signature sweets all over New York. In the next two years, founders Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga plan to put their bakery on the fast track for an expansion — starting with a brand new test kitchen in Greenpoint, a new location in Park Slope, and eventually more than a dozen locations in New York alone.
Patinkin and Kulaga started Ovenly more than six years ago in Brooklyn as a wholesale bakery business. Since then, they’ve added a cafe in Greenpoint and a booth at Urbanspace Vanderbilt. Their pastries can also be found at some 150 coffee shops, hotels, and restaurants around New York, wholesale business that makes up 70 percent of their sales.
But since it’s hard to get wholesale clients like cafes to display the Ovenly name, most people eating their pastries don’t know that they’re eating Ovenly items. Patinkin and Kulaga are hoping that will change with a new network of neighborhood cafes. “Our vision is to be the biggest bakery brand in America,” Patinkin says.
It starts with expansion in Brooklyn. The plan is to anchor the company’s office in Greenpoint in a space that will also house a test kitchen, called Ovenly Studio ONE54. Just a block away from their original cafe and production facility, the new space at 154 Franklin St. will only be open as a cafe for limited hours on weekends. Other times, it will host special events or pop-ups, including a monthly chef residency and classes. It will be focused on serving new, more experimental treats like seasonal sticky buns.
The new cafes will be satellites in various neighborhoods, primarily small spaces that will only serve pastries and coffee. The first of these will open in Park Slope at 210 Flatbush Ave., near Bergen Street, in April, while another one is already in the works elsewhere in Brooklyn. They will all be run by the company and may feature location-specific treats. “Having a network of bakeries and having them in neighborhoods, you’re in the community,” Kulaga says.
Besides wanting more people to know the Ovenly name, Kulaga and Patinkin decided to shift more to retail to offer a more diverse set of pastries. They became known for unusual or unique items when they first launched, but focusing so much on wholesale forced the two to scale back on creativity to produce crowd-pleasers like the peanut butter or chocolate chip cookie in bulk. “We had weird, interesting flavors,” Patinkin says. “But people in wholesale are going to buy safe things.”
The test kitchen in particular will allow for more experimentation. They already have plans to introduce a toasted pecan butterscotch sticky bun, seasonal fruit jam sticky buns, and cookie flavors like a gluten-free chocolate with a marshmallow swirl. Visitors to the limited-hour cafe, opening this summer, will be able to offer feedback on what they like or don’t like, and the successes may eventually be sold more regularly elsewhere.
They’ve loved doing wholesale, but when the two started the business, leaning on wholesale was an accident. Both of them had other day jobs when they started the business, and it just so happened that sales from cafes and coffee shops spread quickly by word of mouth when they first launched. They eyed overall sales more than they thought about a bigger vision for the bakery. “We were in the kitchen, working our asses off 18 hours a day,” Kulaga says. “Now that we’ve removed ourselves from that daily struggle, we’re able to think more strategically about things.”
Investing in Ovenly-branded cafes allows them to return to their reason for leaving their day jobs to bake in the first place: to see people enjoy their delicious pastries. In wholesale, the instant gratification of interacting with people who actually eat the pastry goes away. “We want to know those people,” Patinkin says.
Once the new plan rolls out, they want to grow beyond New York. The duo will be looking at cities across the East Coast to open production facilities along with four or five retail locations per city, though they likely won’t start the rollout until 2019.
They’re banking that people beyond New York will want to visit Ovenly to treat themselves — just as they do here. “We’re taking a bet that we will be successful,” says Patinkin, “and that’s how we will grow over time.”