Watching owner Guy Hanuka race through the sprawling commercial kitchen where he operates BUNS, it’s hard to believe that this bustling bakery began less than two years ago in his tiny home kitchen.
Hanuka’s path to running Rhode Island’s premiere Israeli bakery is circuitous. After spending four years in the Israeli army, Hanuka loafed around Tel Aviv, taking a job washing dishes at a pastry school. “I found the baking world magical,” he says. From his perch at the sink, he absorbed the lessons taught to the students. It was the artisan bread class – with an instructor who shared the sartorial sensibility of a Johnny Depp character – where he found his path.
This rock-and-roll baker became Hanuka’s mentor, and he spent eight years learning the bread business from him, eventually opening bakeries as far-flung as China. During a fortuitous holiday in Vermont, he met Certified Master Baker Jeffrey Hamelman in line at the King Arthur Flour store. The two kept in touch, and Hamelman suggested Hanuka, who confided he wanted formal training, attend Johnson and Wales’ Advanced Standing program.
A few years, a degree, and a marriage later, Hanuka, worried about mounting bills, went to work for a moving company in Boston. Then, the pandemic happened. He stayed at his day job but with free time to fill at night, “I started to bake again,” he says.
An innocuous post on Facebook, asking if anyone wanted a challah or babka, spread through Rhode Island’s Jewish community like over-proofed bread. He baked 80 loaves in his home kitchen that weekend. “My wife and I wrapped them in parchment paper,” he says, still shocked by the reception. “I bought bags at the dollar store.”
At the time, flour was a hot commodity. After work, Hanuka trolled Walmarts searching for flour and additional bread pans. “I didn’t have time to think; it was crazy from the get-go,” he says. So he leaned into the lunacy and, within two weeks, quit his job and moved his nascent bakery into Hope & Main. Six months later, he outgrew the incubator and found a larger space in Providence.
The secret to his tasty breads and pastries is not the recipes, he insists, noting that anyone can find them online. It’s not skimping on ingredients, even during runaway inflation, and having the patience to make them exactly the same every time, ensuring quality control. Or, “care control,” as he calls it.
Hanuka pushes for quality even with a rise in quantity, noting that the babka he bakes now is even better than when he started. “We are always asking, how do we make this better,” he says, refusing to cut corners or costs. “Volume is not an excuse; your character is.”
Hanuka credits his staff of seven for BUNS’ meteoric success, and the affection he feels for his team of young bakers is evident. He hopes to make the bakery employee-owned in the future. “It’s a team effort,” he says. “I want to make this more than a workplace. We’re all BUNS.”
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