How a Jewish Preschool Teacher Became a Professional Challah Baker

January 4, 2021C.E. Harrison

Many Jews see challah as the great union between people and the Divine Infinite. God makes the wheat, but people turn that wheat into something delicious, fulfilling, and beautiful to commemorate Shabbat. Meghann Hennen, a Jewish preschool teacher based in Cleveland, OH, discovered this food’s incredible impact firsthand when she decided to start her own challah business on Instagram.

We spoke with Meghann to learn more about her business, her culinary creations, and what inspires her as a creative Jewish woman. How did you first get involved with baking challah?

Meghann Hennen: When Gov. DeWine shut down Ohio 10 months ago, the Jewish preschool where I work, the Mandel JCC Preschool - Cleveland, shut down on a Wednesday. I thought to myself, “Wait, Shabbat is approaching, and we need a challah! It’ll be awkward to ring in Shabbat on Zoom without our weekly ritual items!”

I quickly looked up a recipe online and went to the store (wearing my mask, of course) for flour, yeast, vegetable oil, sugar, eggs, and salt. I followed the instructions and was able to create a challah for my Zoom class, and I even made one for myself and my husband. It was the first time in our four years of marriage that we celebrated Shabbat as a married couple! We’ve since turned this into a weekly tradition; with everything going on right now, lighting the candles and eating our challah makes Shabbat just a little bit sweeter. What inspired you to start your own challah business?

Meghann Hennen: I decided I’d bake challah for families in my school community, and after three weeks, I started researching the food’s background and origins. Instagram had been my gateway into creating and photographing fun compositions on my plate ever since I lived in New York City, so I used it to find Instagrammers who started baking challah due to the pandemic, just like me.

Three months into baking, I had a random thought while driving down Van Aken Boulevard: "I wonder if I could sell this? What do I have to lose?” So, in mid-March, I took some good iPhone photos of my challahs and posted them online, and orders immediately started coming in.

Ten months in, my business has been growing and I am so grateful for it. I’m now booked until January and taking orders for March. I can say that I am very excited to see where this journey leads. That’s super inspirational!

Meghann Hennen: I’ve just always admired the dedication and authenticity of “mom and pop” businesses. Growing up, every Sunday my Dad would take me to Bialy’s Bagels before Hebrew school at Temple Emanu El. I thought to myself, “This challah thing could turn out to be a lot bigger than I expected and I want something that I too could pass down.” What kinds of challah do you specialize in?

Meghann Hennen: I offer single flavors (e.g., plain, everything but the bagel, apricot, lemon curd, cinnamon), double flavors (double chocolate, chocolate and raspberry, lemon curd and raspberry, asiago and rosemary, fig and goat cheese or cream cheese, cinnamon raisin, and cheese pizza), and triple flavors (pepperoni/cheese/sauce, tomato/mozzarella/basil, and balsamic glaze with triple cream brie and pepper jelly). What have you learned from turning your artistry into a business?

Meghann Hennen: I’ve learned more about my individual gifts and my value – that I have the power to make people smile in a tough time like this. I've learned how to buy according to what I need for the week (my kitchen is very small, and it's hard to store ingredients).

I've also learned more about the impact of social media. I love that I can collaborate with other foodies and that my challah can be a path to hearing others' stories, such as how my challah ended up as a centerpiece on a table.

Recognizing our individual stories and what challah means to my customers keeps me inspired. Knowing that my challah makes a difference in someone's day warms my heart and fills my bucket! What inspires you as a Jewish artist?

Meghann Hennen: My inclusive Reform Jewish community Suburban Temple – Kol Ami deeply inspires me. I’m in an interfaith marriage, and ever since my husband and I relocated back to Cleveland from New York City, I was determined to find a Jewish community where we fit in. Two years ago, I started teaching preschool at Kol Ami and fell in love with Rabbi Allison Vann and Rabbi Shana Nyer Langel. They accepted me and my husband for who we are, and I found a renewed sense of belonging, purpose, and confidence in myself as a creative Jewish woman. Kol HaKavod!

Meghann Hennen: Thank you! I owe a lot to the amazing Jewish women I’ve met from around the country and the world through Instagram who bake challah. Mandy Silverman (@mandyliciouschallah) and Rochie Pinson (@rochiepinson) were two bakers who first inspired me and even answered all my challah-related questions as I was starting out.

I also want to shout-out Nicole Saghian (@breakinbreadwithnic), Maura Koenig (@challahatme315), Rachel “Chally” Marcus (@challyschallah), Idan Chabasov (@challahprince), and Zoe Mor (@challahbabe) for inspiring me with their incredible artistry.

Also, I am so fortunate for my youth group friend Rachel Corber (@corberina), a professional chef in Montreal. She helped me understand all the basic baking skills and tools I needed to be successful! I appreciated her constructive criticism, and I knew I was being helped by an expert. I am beyond grateful for our friendship!

If you want to try Meghann’s challah for yourself, you can view her menu and place orders on Instagram or Facebook.

If you want to try Meghann’s challah for yourself, you can view her menu and place orders on Instagram (@Challah_at_Meg) or on Facebook (@ChallahatMeg). Want to make your own? Check out “All Things Challah: 14 Recipes to Sweeten Shabbat.”

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