How Dolly Meckler turned her baking hobby into a booming business

(New York Jewish Week) – Dolly Meckler didn’t grow up baking challah — the sweet, chewy bread that’s the centerpiece of many Jewish holidays, including Shabbat.

In fact, Meckler wasn’t even much of a baker before COVID-19 lockdowns forced her, and just about everyone else in the world, to become prisoners of the house. Like many millennials at the time, Meckler, 30, started baking her breads to keep herself busy during the long hours and weeks of isolation. She documented her process on Instagram and was surprised when people started asking her to buy her buns.

Now, after returning to New York in the summer of 2020 and in her third commercial kitchen space, her one-time hobby – Challah Dolly – is a challah-making business in her own right. Meckler offers three different varieties – Original, Honey, Cinnamon Sugar and All Seeds – which are currently available at five markets in New York and Connecticut, as well as for sale directly on its website.

One of Meckler’s main goals is to make Jewish food more accessible, even “trendy,” she said.

“I’m trying to make it accessible to people who might feel intimidated and might not know what challah bread is,” Meckler told Jewish Week in New York. “I think I’m an entry point for people who have never had challah before.”

Of course, during the pandemic, there has been no shortage of food entrepreneurs — and Jewish food. Meckler joins the likes of Kayla KayeHella Bagel’s Blake Hunter and Mandy Silverman, who create pastries and present them on social networks. But Meckler has gone a step ahead, with profiles in Forbes, The New Yorker and Time Out New York, among others. She also received shoutouts from Lena Dunham, handbag designer Susan Alexandra and Instagram popular food @foodbabyny.

At the very beginning, Meckler followed a recipe from The New York Times. She then decided to experiment with a recipe passed down to her by a family friend, which she now uses. Not much of a ‘kitchen girl’ before it all kicked off, she said, Meckler’s background is in entertainment: She had moved to Los Angeles about six months before the pandemic to do freelance social and digital marketing after holding similar roles at HBO and YouTube.

Challah Dolly offers three different varieties – Original, Honey, Cinnamon Sugar and All Seeds. (Courtesy)

This social media skill gave Meckler a leg up when it came to casting Challah Dolly. She was able to combine her innate understanding of what works on Instagram to show challah and brand. Meckler said she also enjoys dressing in “high fashion” outfits and photographing herself alongside challah, which makes it fun and playful for consumers.

“I look at my business through this storytelling lens,” she said. “That’s naturally where my brain goes. Whereas, you know, Tate’s Cookies – she was a baker. I am not a culinary artist, I do not test recipes. I don’t do that kind of thing. I wonder: how to spread the story? I love the human side, so how can I create a community? How can I connect with other people? What does this mean for others?

Meckler started by taking orders on her Instagram page, waking up at 5:30 a.m. every Friday morning and baking up to 32 loaves for pickups that night. She opened her online store in February 2021. But getting the product into physical stores was difficult at first — that is, she says, until she brought them a few slices. “What sealed the deal for a lot of these places was they said to me, ‘You know, we made it available to our employees, let’s go, everybody l ate so fast,” Meckler said.

These days, Challah Dolly has become a (mostly) full-time gig. Now that she’s moved on to working with a wholesale bakery, Meckler mainly takes care of the business aspects of Challah Dolly: putting more loaves in stores and working on email marketing and social media.

“Dolly’s energy and enthusiasm brings any idea to life in a unique way,” said Michael Hoffman, Meckler’s friend and former HBO boss.

She also interviews other young creators for a digital web series and podcast called “Hello Dolly!” As part of this project, Meckler also created a series called “You have such a pretty facewhich profiles women on their experiences with fatphobia and beyond. Meckler is passionate about “de-stigmatizing” bread and encouraging people not to be afraid of it and its carb content.

Besides being delicious, the braided egg version of challah is a key part of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking tradition. Bread is the centerpiece of many Jewish celebrations, especially Shabbat: two loaves are traditionally served on Fridays and feast nights to symbolize the two portions of manna distributed to the Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt so that they could rest and have enough bread to last. by Shabbat.

Before working with a wholesale bakery, Meckler woke up at 5:30 a.m. every Friday morning and baked up to 32 loaves for evening pick-ups. (Courtesy of Meckler)

The key ingredients in a typical challah batter are yeast, flour, egg, sugar, and salt. However, there is room for a wide variety of interpretations.

“Usually when you buy challah it comes from a very traditional place where people buy it for a purpose, for a meal or for a holiday,” said a writer and baker. Gaby Scelzo. “Because they’re so simple and traditional and meant to go with other things, I don’t think they’re meant to be the main event. They don’t stand out as much as what Dolly does, where the main event is the challah. »

“It’s the perfect combination,” Scelzo said of Meckler’s loaves. “The braids are beautiful, you cut them, they have like a bit of a crispy shell. The inside is so stretchy and fluffy, but also a little sweet.

Throughout his challah baking journey, Meckler said Challah Dolly helped her become more in tune with her Jewish identity. She and her family moved from New York to Connecticut when she was 10, and she and her brother were among the few Jewish children in their high school. She made more Jewish friends while studying at Indiana University. Since returning to New York, she said, baking challah has only made Meckler even more proud of her Jewish heritage and the town she comes from.

“There’s such an opportunity to try to make Judaism modern and cool,” Meckler said. “And like, not that it’s just booked for Friday Shabbat dinner.” I want people to eat challah with their sandwiches or with any meal, like it’s just really good bread, religion aside. (Challah Dolly does not have kosher certification.)

For now, Meckler hopes to weave his challah into the fabric of the New York foodie scene. She said she would like to do collaborations with Russ & Daughters or Ess-a-Bagel. For now, though, she’s happy that her challah is resonating with a wide cross-section of New Yorkers.

“A lot of people said to me, ‘Wow, this is my first time eating challah bread,'” Meckler said. “I love that, because it’s like, ‘wow, I’m so honored to be the first experience you have with this really special bread.'”