A passion for baking

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When Tel Aviv native Guy Hanuka enrolled at Johnson & Wales University, he was already an experienced baker. Hanuka graduated from JWU last year with an Associate of Sciences degree in Baking & Pastry Arts. Today he is the proprietor of Buns Bakery, which features Jewish and Israeli specialties such as challah, babka, rugelach and burekas, which he calls “staples of our [Jewish] culture.”

Hanuka’s warmth and energy are immediately apparent, and to hear the story of how baking took him around the world is to also hear how passionate he is about his art. Hanuka’s story also emphasizes his tremendous passion for his community.

Hanuka became a baker after four years’ service in the Israeli Army, where he had attained the rank of staff sergeant. As a 22-year-old civilian he was attracted to the food industry and said, “One day I saw a bread-baker. A real bread-baker, you know? I’d never seen anything like that.” That fascination kept Hanuka in Tel Aviv for the next seven years, honing his craft and rising to become head baker at multiple bakeries, working seven days a week, 350 hours a month.

When he was asked to open a new bakery in Shanghai, Hanuka seized the opportunity. Further travels brought him to the Culinary Institute of America, in New York, where he was amazed by what he saw. As Hanuka began to research baking programs to advance his training, a recommendation from celebrated baker Jeffrey Hamelman convinced him to look at JWU, where he enrolled in 2017.

Now settled in Rhode Island, Hanuka has been pursuing his dream of owning his own bakery; he opened Buns Bakery in March, as a virtual storefront. Hanuka said, “I think the coronavirus is what pushed me to it, because we were forced to live in the present. It’s now.”

Hanuka currently bakes to-order out of Hope & Main, a Warren-based culinary incubator. For social distancing and safety, all orders are picked up at outdoor locations on Friday and Saturday.

There’s a cheeky sense of humor to Buns’ offerings, which rotate regularly. A recent Shavuot special was the ricotta-filled “Welcome Back Cotta” babka, and the “Holla!” challah is a regular offering. With a nod to his adopted home state, Hanuka also offers his “Bur-RI-kas” burekas, which are available with a variety of fillings.

Word travels fast, and Hanuka explained that he wasn’t ready for the support he’s had from the Jewish community, “I thought I’d have to drive around with these babka and beg for people to try it, because I believe in it…. but the people just responded amazingly to it, and we get new customers each week.” Hanuka emphasized that the sense of community, and listening to customers’ feedback, is critical to his work.

Hanuka said that his products are “meant for gatherings, to bring people together. It’s not just a babka; it’s not just the product, but it’s an experience of sharing, of togetherness.”

“Before the whole idea of Buns Bakery…living in Johnston it was hard for me to find the Jewish community, Buns Bakery really made me find the community, and that’s the best thing that’s happened to me.

“I’ve traveled the world,” Hanuka said, “and I realized that the view is amazing everywhere, but what makes the difference is the people. To me, it’s the people. It’s not worth [doing] without a community.”

Hanuka plans to eventually open a storefront bakery in Providence, offering not just baked goods but Israeli foods, as well. At present, Buns Bakery can be found on Facebook, on Instagram @bunsbakeryri, bunsbakeryri.squarespace.com, or at 401-425-9544.

MICHAEL SCHEMAILLE (mschemaille@jewishallianceri.org) writes for Jewish Rhode Island and the Jewish Alliance.