Sparking Joy is at the Heart of Everything This Bakery Does

Food & Drink

As Ovenly enters its 10th year Agatha Kulaga prepares to step into the CEO role and continue to expand Ovenly’s social impact.

It’s impossible not to smile taking a bite of Ovenly’s salted caramel brownie. Soft, silky caramel blends with the rich brownie and each taste is a little bit of respite from a hectic day. 

“Our ethos is about bringing joy to people, I want to continue that and create more joy in more communities,” says Ovenly co-founder and soon to be CEO Agatha Kulaga.

As Ovenly—the social impact-focused bakery that launched in Brooklyn in 2010 and quickly became known throughout New York City and the country for its blackout chocolate cake and vegan salted chocolate chip cookies—enters its 10th year, big changes are coming. Co-founder Erin Patinkin is moving into more of an advisory role, and Kulaga will step into the CEO position. There, Kulaga will continue to oversee company-wide operations and strategy, leading the charge in opening two more locations—all while expanding Ovenly’s social impact work across the business.

“There’s so much more I want to do with Ovenly from expanding our retail operations to our social impact,” Kulaga said. “Erin and I remain fully committed to the success and growth of this company.”

With four permanent bake shops, Ovenly recently opened a pop-up at the Bryant Park Holiday Market and is preparing to open another permanent location at JFK’s Terminal 5.

“It’s going to open us up to a much bigger customer base and we hope people will be taking our cakes on planes,” Kulaga said, adding that she has a retail strategy to open more locations as Ovenly works towards national expansion.

Before creating Ovenly, Kulaga and Patinkin worked in the nonprofit world. They knew from the beginning they wanted not only to start a food business, with amazing baked goods, but scale their business while making a social impact.

“We wanted to bring our personal values into our professional day-to-day lives and inspire other businesses to act differently as well,” Kulaga said.

Not only does Ovenly pay a livable wage, but they provide health insurance, offer paid vacations, and primary and secondary caregiver leave benefits, which are not common in the food industry. 

Not long after they opened their first retail shop in Greenpoint in 2012, they began working with organizations including the ANSOB Center for Refugees, Hot Bread Kitchen, and Drive Change that train and help place people with barriers to employment, such as people who’ve were previously incarcerated, have little or no experience, gaps in their resumes or other things in their personal histories that might cause them to have a hard time getting jobs.

“We are a for profit business but we have social impact goals that focus on building stronger local economies and communities,” Kulaga said.

The social impact part of Ovenly is a constant work in progress and as Kulaga moves into the CEO role she plans on continuing to strengthen their work by enhancing the company metrics Ovenly collects to track their progress and accountability on social impact and sustainability goals. 

She’s also focused on moving Ovenly to be a zero-waste, carbon positive company.

“I’ll be the first to admit it’s not going to be easy,” Kulaga said.

In the past nearly 10 years, Ovenly has reduced its landfill waste by 70%. They use renewable energy sources and donate food that would otherwise go to waste when they can and source intentionally to limit their waste. Kulaga is planning to launch a new carbon offset program in the near future.

“I feel so fortunate. We have 71 employees now and it started off with Erin and I doing all the baking, and the finances and the dishwashing,” Kulaga said. “Sometimes you forget how far you’ve come but it feels really, really great.”

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