Spotted in Jewish DMV: Velvel Breads! We connected with Hannah Wolfman-Arent to learn all about Velvel Breads, a community support bakery supplying challah, sourdough, and more to the DMV. Keep reading to learn more!
Talia: Tell me a little bit about Velvel Breads! How did you get into baking, and into building that experience into your business?
Hannah: I have been a baker for seven or eight years. I have been working in bakeries and at restaurants for a while and I learned to bake bread when I was living in New Orleans. I moved back to DC in late 2019 and was working for Sonny’s Pizza in Parkview developing their pastry menu for their cafe next door. That creative part of it is really the part that appealed to me most, so I knew I wanted to try selling my own products.
I don’t come from a business background in my family, or necessarily a foodie background. But we did make bread; my mom did make challah every week. She’d make the dough in the machine and then we’d like braid it, which I love.
“Velvel” is a Yiddish boy’s name, like the name you would give a kid, meaning “little wolf.” It’s not the direct translation, but my last name is Wolfman-Arent. So it’s a reference kind to me, but also to the Yiddish language and Ashkenazi tradition. I wanted to sell products that felt true to me, and so I sell sourdough loaves because I just love making those and eating those, and treats that are mostly of the Ashkenazi Jewish variety.
Talia: Your website says you’re a ‘community support bakery,’ can you explain what that means?
Hannah: When there’s a CSB [community support bakery], people are buying into it with shares, and then the baker knows how much to make for their community, so you’re getting the community support before you create the product. It’s a pre-ordering thing! It allows me to know how much to make and reduces waste. Just this month, I also started doing a la carte because it seems like a lot of people really wanted that, but I really love the subscription model.
I knew folks who had done this kind of subscription model, what a lot of people call a “Cottage Bakery.” You get a cottage license and you can sell not just bread, but a cottage license just means that you can sell out of your home. So I knew some people who had like done that model, like getting people to pre-order ahead of time and then get a loaf each week—or however the subscription was modeled—and I felt like that was maybe a good model for me to start off with.
So there are three pickup locations in Petworth, Takoma Park, and Mount Pleasant. Getting on those listservs and getting people to mention it to people in those neighborhoods is a great way to get the word out and accomplish what I’m trying to do.
Photo: Alanna Reeves
Talia: That’s so cool! I’d love to jump back to something else we were discussing before: how has your connection to Jewishness played a role in creating your brand and menu?
Hannah: I’ve had a lot of really impactful experiences in the Jewish community as I’ve become an adult. When I lived in New Orleans, I co-founded and organized with a Jewish Voice for Peace chapter, and even in that space I was able to do some food experience stuff. We would make Passover seders for a hundred people; I would design the food for that. Some of those experiences of feeding the Jewish community that I like really helped build that, and I always do specials for Jewish holidays. A lot of people just love challah, and I love people who are just like getting something they love and just want to be eating! And then there are also people who are putting my challah on their ritual table every week, and that feels really special.
Talia: How are you feeling about the High Holidays? Is that usually a busy time for you?
Hannah: I love the high holidays. It really does feel like the new year to me, so much more than January 1st. This time of year feels so special to me, it really feels like there’s a change coming and the high holidays really feel like such an amazing way to frame the transition. This is my first high holidays running this business! In terms of Velvel, I’ve been really excited to put out a special menu for them with lots of treats. I’m trying to teach classes too.
Talia: That’s so exciting, I can’t wait to see how it goes. Okay, one more question, what do you love most about what you do?
Hannah: There’s a favorite part of my week, which is when I’m shaping my sourdough. There’s a rhythm to that, I just love the feeling of doing that… I think I also love the human part of it. When I have connections with customers it’s really special. I’ve had several people email me from the hospital that they just had a baby and they won’t be able to pick up their bread and I’m like, wow, you’re really on top of it! But I have that, and I have people’s birthdays, and people saying I actually have to go away for shiva so I can’t pick up. Just being part of people’s lives is special.
Talia: Thank you so much, Hannah, this was great!
Find out more about Velvel Breads by visiting their website.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.