The new bakery in Livingston, Sweet Kneads, operating under the kosher supervision of the Vaad HaRabbonim of MetroWest, was open barely two weeks when this writer stopped by to check it out. Without prompts from staff, I witnessed the enthusiasm of a bunch of customers for this new addition to the Essex County kosher food scene.
Sarah Proops, rebbetzin of Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center in Livingston, dropped in with her son, Ashi, and exclaimed to the owner: “There is a buzz in our town. People are so excited. The whole community is so thrilled you are here.”
Debra Mistretta and her daughter Kylie stopped by and stated that friends had recommended the place, telling them the food is really great. And they agreed 100%.
Whitney Michaels of Blairstown shared that this was her third or fourth visit to the bakery although she lives 50 miles away; the food is that good.
Who runs this place? And how did they gain an enthusiastic following so fast?
Owner Ridhima Sood told The Jewish Link that she has been working in the baking business for over 10 years. She started out baking just for family and friends and found that she really enjoyed it, so she started selling her pastries to cafes in her area. (She lives in Livingston with her husband, Ankur, and their two young sons). After a few years as a home-based business, she took the job of head pastry chef for Arora Hospitality Group, the biggest Indian catering company in North America, based in New Jersey.
Sood worked for Arora for two years and decided that it was time to pursue her dream—to open a small neighborhood food establishment, similar to the cafes she’d seen on a family trip a few years ago to Budapest, Hungary, to serve the needs of her neighbors. She left her job at Arora in October 2022 and began looking for the best location to build her business. Having found an ideal spot on South Livingston Ave, she secured the location in November 2022, and put a sign in the window: “Coming Soon: Sweet Kneads Bakery.” As the building needed extensive renovations to accommodate the bakery, it took six months until the actual opening in mid-April of this year.
She shared that she found the road to becoming a business owner quite daunting. “When I was head pastry chef, I just had to oversee the kitchen. But now I had to worry about all the paperwork, permits, finding the right location, hiring staff … It was a lot!”
Sood stated, “I second-guessed myself every day.” Fortunately, her husband Ankur, a partner in a hedge fund, was a huge supporter of the venture, telling her, “Just do it!” And her many friends in the area cheered her on, saying, “You’re going to be just fine.”
Some of those friends were members of the observant Jewish community and urged her to explore making the bakery she was building kosher. As she always envisioned serving the entire community, Sood looked into what it would take to make the bakery kosher. She did her research, visited kosher restaurants, and spoke with rabbis.
She found her way to the Vaad HaRabbonim of MetroWest and she was effusive about their assistance on her path to become kosher. She praised Rabbi Aaron Leff, who was “very helpful” in guiding her through the process and who supervises the bakery now. She recalled a FaceTime meeting with seven area rabbis who offered her guidance, and a final inspection of the newly completed bakery by Rabbi Yakov Teichman, the rabbinic administrator of the Vaad, who gave it his approval.
Sweet Kneads offers a range of freshly baked goods such as croissants, cakes, danishes, brownies, cookies and tres leche cupcakes in a variety of flavors. They use all fresh ingredients and bake in small batches all day to preserve freshness. Additionally, the bakery offers outdoor seating.
Sood takes particular pride in her fusion approach to baking, stating that her aim is to create pastries that are both familiar tasting yet totally different. She wants the customer to think, “I know these flavors but I’ve never tasted something like this before!” As an example, she pointed to her tres leche cupcakes that use milk infused with saffron and cardamom.
Sood added that the bakery welcomes catering requests and can address custom orders, including gluten-free, vegan and nut-free requests. They are preparing a party space that can seat up to 12 people and host sip parties.Sweet Kneads plans to offer cooking classes in the weeks ahead.
It’s clear that Sweet Kneads has quickly made a name for itself in the community.
Rabbi James Proops of Suburban Torah Center echoed his wife’s earlier comments, stating, “Ridhima is going out of her way to accommodate our local Jewish community, and her bakery has become an amazing resource for us. We so much appreciate all of her work to get hashgacha and to serve our community.”
More succinctly, I’ll quote my dad, Joel Glazer of Elizabeth, who graciously agreed to sample Sweet Kneads’ brownies with me after my visit. His response was, “Wow, these are dangerously good,” and I agree completely.
Sweet Kneads is located at 38 South Livingston Ave, in Livingston, a short drive from Route 280. They can be reached online at www.sweetkneadsnj.com or by phone at 973-320.9030. Their hours are Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Saturdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m.) and Sundays 9 a.m.- noon.
Harry Glazer welcomes recommendations of other new kosher restaurants and bakeries to review for The Jewish Link. What fun! He can be reached at [email protected]