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Napa woman launches bake-at-home bakery, like a Papa Murphy's of pastry

For Rory Kandel of Rory’s Bakehouse in Napa, creating pastries is her passion and the freezer is her happy place.

The New York native who moved to Napa about 16 years ago, descends from a long line of foodservice entrepreneurs and has “only and always” worked in that industry.

“My grandfather owned a restaurant in New York City, and my great grandfather owned a restaurant in New York City and I never had any other type of job,” she said. “I went to school at Johnson & Wales for baking and pastry.”

At 42, the mother of two sons — one 12-and one 14 years old — has embarked on a bakery business with a twist — like the Papa Murphy's of pastry, she prepares all manner of sweets and freezes them for people to self-bake at home, she said.

“My dream would be to be the next Sara Lee. I love the freezer,” she said. “I can bake one cookie if I want to. The rest will stay good for up to six months. The product will always be as fresh as you want it to be.”

This approach also reduces food waste, she said.

“It’s a benefit all around,” she said. “The best part for me is that everybody gets to have this warm, amazing smell wafting through their house when they bake what they buy. It’s important to me to give that to my customers. I wasn’t sure if it would catch on, but people really seem to be loving it.”

Kandel said she came to this new enterprise, which she started in March of 2020, after launching her career in New York.

“I got my first job at Aureole; the Charlie Palmer restaurant in New York, and worked my way through New York City, and made the move to California right after 9/11,” she said. “I had a brief stint as a pastry chef at the Village Pub in Woodside, then the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay.”

After “working in pastry for some nine years,” she had gotten burned out and didn’t feel like baking anymore, "so I moved to Napa to work in the front of the house,” Kandel said.

“I took a job at Bouchon in Yountville and there for eight years. And when I left, I moved to Far Niente winery to work selling wine for several years,” she said.

“That was just before COVID, and they stopped being able to have people in person. I loved my job, but when we were furloughed and realized that it was going to be a while, I decided maybe I could bake for some people.”

Kandel said she “never lost my love of baking and I knew there were people who would want what I made. So, I put a note on Facebook that I was baking cookies for people, and that’s really how it started," in March of 2020.

It was not an easy decision for Kandel to go all-in on a new business, she said.

“I had to decide whether to go back to a hospitality job or go back to my passion,” she said. “So I risked everything and got involved with the Small Business Development Center and started to build this business. It was scary in the beginning. Terrifying.”

The death of a friend in January of 2020 helped Kandel decide to go for it, she said.

“I have two sons and a lot of responsibility and I didn’t know what was going to happen,” she said. “It’s very difficult to start a business here. But, my very close friend Christopher Kennedy passed away in January of 2020 and it really was a catalyst for me deciding I had nothing to lose. But, I’m lucky to have a lot of friends in the business and they facilitated the beginning of my business.”

In the beginning, using her friends’ St. Helena restaurant as a commissary kitchen, Kandel said she offered fresh-baked, frozen, and ready-to-bake options, having learned that baking goodies in one’s own oven comes with a number of mouth-watering benefits, like having the aroma of things baking, wafting through your house.

“I have always had a freezer full of things I could bake,” she said. “Half the people chose frozen and I started thinking about the possibilities. I started rolling out new cookies and it just started to spiral from there.”

Mary Beth McMann of Napa is one customer who appreciates Kandel’s decision.

“I have a dear friend who supports the Farmers Market, who told us about another woman who makes baked goods, and, as an Italian woman, ‘baked goods’ is all you have to hear,” McMann said. “So, I looked her up and the rest is history. Her stuff is incredible.”

Friend and customer, Minta Zlomke also had glowing reviews to share.

“The bake-at-home concept is ideal,” she said. “So many of us like to cook and bake but don't always have time in our busy schedules to do all of the necessary prep work. I love that I still get to warm up the oven and have the experience of baking at home without all the hassle. And though I think I'm a pretty accomplished home baker, I would never come up with the inventive flavors and combinations she whips up.”

Rory’s Bakehouse’s business has grown and items will be available at the new Winston's Cafe and Bakery, featuring Paulie's Bagels, once it opens in the former ABC space, as well as online, Kandel said.

“Our menu is released on Sundays and I do home deliveries on Fridays,” she said. “Customers will also be able to pick up orders at Winston's/Paulie’s once they’re open; hopefully next month.”

Following many of her customers’ preferences, nearly everything Rory’s prepares is frozen to be baked at home, Kandel said.

“We do a wide range of cookies, including chocolate chip, double chocolate espresso toffee, cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting, which is very popular, green onion and cheddar biscuits, raspberry scones with passion fruit icing,” she said. “I also do a lot of different versions of marshmallow crispy treats. A lot of truffle items, pull-apart bread, soft pretzels. I make a lot of stuff.”

Kandel said her goal is to grow the business nationwide, and believes this is possible mostly because of social media.

“It’s a huge undertaking but part of my plan,” she said. “My business thrives because of Instagram.”

Meanwhile, Kandel asks that people sign up for her email list to be alerted to her weekly menu release on Sunday nights, with home delivery on Fridays and soon-to-be pickup at Winston's/Paulie’s Bagels.

For more information and to place orders, visit Rorysbakehouse.com.

You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or jhuffman@napanews.com

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