Bakers take an unexpected path to kashrut

Bakers take an unexpected path to kashrut

With rabbi’s assistance, Jamaican immigrants discover Jewish market

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

On a recent morning, Marsden Ricketts and Brian Dyce, childhood friends who grew up together on Discovery Bay in St. Ann, Jamaica, pulled their first batch of cupcakes for the day out of the oven in their Springfield kosher bakery, Delightful Cake Kreation, and placed them carefully on the cooling rack.

The yellow cake treats would later be iced and would join specialty cupcakes like red velvet, pineapple coconut, and double chocolate in the front showcase, along with individual mini-pies, and slices of cake. The pair also sells hard dough bread, a Jamaican specialty, and plenty of custom cakes, for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and bar and bat mitzvas.

Ricketts and Dyce, who giggle together like little boys as they tell their story to a visitor, could hardly have predicted that their career trajectories would lead them to opening a bakery together, let alone one that is kosher.

Dyce came to the United States to study engineering at City College of New York and got sidetracked, with one semester to go, at Raven Dennis’s famed bakery in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn (which closed last year and reopened as Cakeville in Cobble Hill).

While Dyce was dropping a friend off at work there one day, Dennis, known as “Cake Man Raven,” offered him a few hours of work each day that week just to observe operations and suggest changes. On vacation and eager for the extra cash, Dyce accepted.

“It was so artistic; I wondered if I could do it,” Dyce said of Dennis’s creations. Pretty soon, he was arriving at 2 a.m. to learn to bake and decorate and open the store.

When it came time to go out on his own, he turned to his buddy Ricketts, who just happened to be at a transitional moment in his own career. Until that point, he had followed a predictable path. A graduate of the culinary school of the Art Institutes in New York with a focus on management and cooking, he worked at a variety of restaurants, married and had two children, and settled in New Jersey with his wife.

The day after Dyce made his proposition, Ricketts found their Springfield space. They opened in December. Neither knew much about kashrut, and it certainly wasn’t on their business radar.

Enter Rabbi Mark Mallach, a Conservative rabbi who leads Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield. He happened to park his car in front of the bakery one day before heading to dinner at the kosher Tokyo Hibachi restaurant across the street. Ducking in, he asked the pair if they had considered a kosher store. Ricketts had a basic understanding of what it would take to have an Orthodox hechsher, or certification, and knew that wasn’t for him. But Mallach assured them that the kosher rules were more adaptable than they might think.

“That was news to us,” said Ricketts. “We weren’t sure, but we figured it couldn’t hurt.”

By February, they had become certified kosher under Mallach’s supervision. Calling Beth Ahm Yisrael “our temple,” they have gotten fluent enough in Jewish culture to know that someone looking for dessert for a recent Shabbat probably needed something pareve (non-dairy). (All their baked goods are dairy but can be ordered pareve with one to two days’ notice.)

They are close to hiring a professionally trained baker, who also happens to be Jewish and Israeli, to help them with the Jewish side of the business — like selling hallah for Shabbat, and offering advice on what delicacies to offer for Jewish holidays.

“There’s a certain comfort factor having a Jewish baker here for the community,” said Ricketts. The new baker will be on staff soon — possibly in time to ensure some sufganiyot for Hanukka.

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