Nyack Sketch Log: Pandemic Pivot, from Barrister to Baker

by Bill Batson

Our global economic shut down has become the mother of all reinventions. Luddites are scheduling back-to-back webinars as manic extroverts seek tranquility and communion with flowering garden plants. When Tina Traster watched her lawyer husband turn off his laptop and turn on a KitchenAid Classic Plus, she encouraged what she called his “pandemic pivot.”

As a lawyer, real estate manager, water safety advocate, and recent candidate for local government, Rick Tannenbaum can skillfully shape words into winning arguments. Now, he’s mixing flour, milk, and eggs into appetizing pound cakes sold under his newly minted commercial banner, Hudson Valley Loafer.

If you’ve found that during this period of pause and reflection, ideas have emerged about a new direction for your life, be inspired by the example of Tannenbaum’s transformation from barrister to baker.

When did you discover your baking prowess?

Fifteen years ago, my family moved to Valley Cottage from New York City. We’d been living in a one-bedroom Upper West Side co-op with our toddler. It had a tiny kitchen that also doubled as an office, a pantry, and a place to park a stroller. We fell in love with an old, ramshackle, uninhabitable farmhouse that could sucker only nature-starved city folks. That said, we transformed our 160-year-old house, planted vegetables, raised chickens–embraced the homesteading life. The kitchen became the center of our life. But my wife drew a line in the sand. She does the cooking. I started baking. I’d never baked before but I’ve always made things with my hands. One day, I found a bread recipe. And I found a natural pleasure in the process of making it. The bread was delicious, and baking became an outlet for life’s stresses.

What are the similarities between baking and lawyering?

Perhaps nothing at all, except the desire to perfect a skill. Lawyering is filled with negotiation, drama, compromise, winning, and sometimes losing. It’s complicated, and though the law is the law, outcomes are unpredictable. What I find about baking is that it really is a science that can be mastered with a predictable outcome loaf after loaf. What sets it apart from lawyering is that customers always feel satisfied with pound cakes and fresh bread. As a baker, you bring someone pleasure. As an attorney, you largely aim for relief.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your legal practice?

I practiced law through 2005, and then used a combination of legal and real estate skills to manage commercial property. Both are high-stress professions, which provided for my family. The commercial real estate industry has been hard-hit by COVID-19 pandemic. In those early weeks in March, I could feel the momentum of every pending deal heading off the cliff. I felt adrift, and baked a lot–even more than usual. The house started filling up with breads and pound cakes. My wife said it’s time for you to turn this into a business. We’d talked about this before–you know, while on vacation, watching a sunset, and talking about what you’d rather being doing. But this time, we put it on the “white board” at home. We gave it a name and talked about starting with a narrow focus–loaves of cake and breads–and delivering safely to people’s houses while they’re on lockdown. We literally just got started the next day because the demand is there. People want comfort food. They want cakes and bread that truly taste like they’ve come out of their mother’s or grandmother’s oven. We use only the finest ingredients and deliver within 24 hours. What we’re selling is both food and nostalgia. A lot of people have a story about pound cake. It brings them somewhere sweet in their memory.

What are some of the high points in your legal career?

I won an International Human Rights Award from the American Immigration Lawyers Association for work I did helping Haitian refugees secure counsel in immigration and deportation hearings. I also published a companion law review article and broke new legal ground in transnational defamation cases and money laundering.

You recently ran for office [Clarkstown Town Council]. Would you run again?

As you know, I’ve always been civic-minded, whether protecting historic property or the reservoir. I’ve never been afraid to lead, especially as it relates to making the world a better place. I ran on the Green Party ticket, which was a long shot because in our country, third-party candidates have almost no chance. That’s too bad. It was an interesting experience. I mostly enjoyed interacting with constituents who were really supportive about my platform. I can’t say I would or wouldn’t run for an elected office in the future–I suppose that depends on what demands my time going forward.

How has your pandemic pivot been going?

It’s been surprisingly gratifying. I’ve been baking ’round the clock. I’m generally a quick study, so I’ve been figuring out the logistics on sourcing, marketing, writing a business plan as I can. But I believe I began with an edge. I’ve been baking for 15 years and felt confident about the product itself. I have learned that when you’re selling something you love and take deep pride in, there’s a kind of satisfaction that runs deep. I feel responsible for every loaf. Each one is like an offspring. Best part of this whole thing is when someone tells me how delicious it was.

What were the first steps you took?

HV Loafer just came about organically. We put word out on social media, just to experiment, and the orders started coming in. So long as we were consistently messaging, the orders continued. Now we plan to break into farmers’ markets, starting with the Piermont Market this Memorial Day Weekend, and we are gearing up to deliver pound cake and cookies to corporate offices.

How would you advise others who may be considering a new career?

Do it. Do what you love while you’re working another job if you can. Perfect a skill, because that skill may become the thing you rely on at some point in your life. The pandemic has shown us the fragility of life. Sometimes you start a business because you have the luxury to do so. Other times, you do so out of necessity. Any business is a complicated endeavor that requires clarity, focus, good timing, and a bit of luck. I’d say you have a better chance at succeeding if you’re working on something that matters to you.

Any other talents simmering under the surface?

I love woodworking. I’ve built garden enclosures, wooden shutters, benches, and bird boxes. As I said, I like to work with my hands. Woodworking, though, is more forgiving. I view it as an art. Baking is a science. It demands precision.

What’s next for Hudson Valley Loafer?

For now, we are going to continue delivering to Rockland customers, but as the world opens up, we will do more markets, corporate packages, and we may even get a little food truck. We’ve been eyeing ways to make HV Loafer a mobile option. Stay tuned!

To order from Hudson Valley Loafer or to find out which farmer’s market that they will attend next, visit hvloafer.com or find them on Facebook.

If you’d like one of my two published collections of essays, interviews and sketches, or some of my Nyack Sketch Log branded-gear, you can visit  nyackgift.com.

Thanks for your support over the last nine years.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: ” Pandemic Pivot, from Barrister to Baker” © 2020 Bill Batson.  To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com 


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