3 Lessons on Social Justice from Greyston Bakery

By Deborah Leipziger

Greyston Bakery

When Greyston Bakery was first established in the Bronx, New York, in 1982, its goal was to alleviate poverty in the community. After a 1987 move to Yonkers, New York, and more than 30 years in business, what Greyston has done is nothing short of revolutionary — it has addressed the root causes of poverty for many and provided them with pathways to a different future.

In addition, Greyston has grown into a multimillion-dollar business — it brought in $13.4 million in 2014, with more than 130 employees. It provides high-quality pastries to the best restaurants in New York City, and the brownies for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream come from its kitchen.

Through Greyston’s efforts, a number of best practices for addressing social justice through the power of business have emerged. Here are three ways that Greyston prioritizes social justice while still running a profitable business.


Greyston founder Bernie Glassman, a former NASA aerospace engineer who became a Zen master, infused the company with a Buddhist perspective: everything is highly interconnected. This understanding is central to the company’s strategy for success. Glassman, who stepped down as CEO in 2000, be- gan by cultivating a deep knowledge of the community he was trying to serve. He and members of the Greyston team volunteered at local soup kitchens to better understand the issues facing the homeless population. There, Glassman made an important discovery: many of the homeless people in the area were single parents. Without access to childcare, they could not find work. Without work, they could not find housing. It was a vicious cycle that often lasted generations, and the despair surrounding this cycle often led to drug addiction, which required further help.

Glassman discovered that in order to foster job creation, the broader lack of quality childcare, housing, and training must be addressed as well. Discovering the interconnectedness of these problems led Glassman to develop the Greyston Mandala, which describes the network of services provided by the Greyston Foundation to holistically and systematically address poverty in the community.

The Greyston Foundation’s for profit and not for profit entities provide jobs, affordable housing, child care, after-school programs, HIV health care, community gardens, and more. The foundation’s affordable housing program now houses 522 individuals in nearly 300 units located in Yonkers, Pleasantville, and Irvington.

The Greyston Mandala is a “net” of supportive services that helps lift community members out of poverty and make lasting change. Current CEO Mike Brady has taken this to heart and is passionate about “Social Enterprise Leadership” — a term he uses to describe Greyston’s wide net of efforts.


Greyston employs many people who have never worked before, including people who have been incarcerated or have come out of drug rehabilitation programs. The company keeps a list of individuals looking for jobs, and when an opening becomes available, Greyston hires the next person on that list with no questions asked — a practice it refers to as Open Hiring. By law, the company is required to check whether the candidates are US citizens, but otherwise, no background checks are made; all that is required is a willingness to work. Greyston managers train new employees in a 12- to 16-week apprenticeship pro- gram with an emphasis on punctuality and respecting authority. Those who stay with Greyston can go on to earn highly prized jobs with benefits.


The company is committed to “PathMaking,” a program rooted in mindfulness that creates opportunities for employees to find and follow their own path once they learn how to hold a job. Each employee at Greyston is supported with assessments and goal-setting tools such as “Personal Balance Sheets” (which evaluate body, heart, mind, spirit, and self) or “Lifeplans” (which can identify issues, habits, or life experiences that help or hinder progress toward life goals).

Greyston then provides individualized assistance to employees to help them achieve their plans, whether that involves working toward a GED or simply getting advice on health care. Employees are encouraged to see Greyston as a stepping-stone on the way to higher-paying jobs and self-sufficiency, and the company believes that the body, mind, heart, and spirit must be nurtured in order for an individual to find wholeness. With the resources they have been provided, individuals in the Greyston network can move toward a self-sustaining life, which benefits the community as a whole.


What started as one bakery has grown into a multi- million-dollar company with a related network — the Greyston Mandala — of for-profit and not-for-profit entities providing the support needed to lift people out of poverty and foster self-sufficiency. Any company looking to promote social justice can take a leaf from the Greyston motto: “We don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people.”

Greyston Bakery

This article appeared in Issue 6 | March/April 2016

To read more inspiring articles from Issue 6 including stories about Greyston Bakery, Dave's Killer Bread, Rising Tide Car wash, and our cover story featuring Leila Janah, Founder of Samasource, purchase a copy of Issue 6 online or on newsstands!

Buy Issue