Jewel Jones loves baking. He can talk someone's ear off about how moist (but not too moist), and how sweet (but not too sweet) the perfect baked treat needs to be. Most of all, he likes it when it is slightly warm to the touch, not right out of the oven but a couple of minutes after. Delaying for those minutes is the difference between trouble and perfection. But the wait can be so painful!
You remember those chocolate chip cookies at Thanksgiving. You waited a couple of minutes for the chocolate chips to harden to just the right consistency, and then they melted in your mouth with the very first bite! Mmm, mmm! Or take that hot banana nut loaf just out of the oven. If you cut off a slice too soon, the treat turned into a crumbly, steaming mess. No, no! Wait a minute! You can tell a lot about a person by the way they bake and then eat. In other words, patience is a virtue. Character is paid off with great tastes! And Jones has a lot of patience, a quality he learned from his mother.
Growing up in Chicago, he learned from his mother about baking when he was 8 years old. His eyes light up at the memory of cooking with the little oven she gave him. “She would bake everything in the big oven, and she had me mix up different things to put in my little oven,” he remembers. “It [baking] became the love of my life,” he says. However, Jones placed it on hold to pursue other dreams.
With the seed his mother planted grew another attribute, persistence, which would prove to be beneficial in other arts too. Touring as a singer in The El Dorados, a doo-wop band with a #1 hit in 1955, Jones sang in clubs across America and toured with notable artists like Ray Charles and The Drifters. The band separated in 1957 and afterwards, Jones found work in the restaurant industry. First as a bus boy, then as a cook. Soon, he was managing restaurants.
He still enjoyed creating and baking on the side, but it was more of a hobby. In fact, he took a short two-week baking class once but other than the class he's not formally trained in culinary arts. For years, Jones dreamed of starting a cafe and bakery to help the poorer members of the community. He tested out new recipes and drew up plans in his mind.
There's a particular fondness in Jones' heart for carrot cake. Not just any old carrot cake purchased at a store, but his own signature carrot cake. Jones experimented with his recipe on and off, taking him decades to perfect through trial and error. He said he'd play with a recipe slightly then put it down “on the back burner.” Six months would pass before he would try again. He wanted the recipe to be something he enjoyed by his own personal tastes and standards. Moisture was a priority and certainly the cake need not be too cloying. Furthermore, the consistency achieved by a commercial standard oven was vital.
About 15 years ago, the magic happened. “Finally, I got it just the way I wanted,” he declared during our interview. His ideal cake was spongy, balanced between sweet and spicy (it is, after all, a carrot cake), and firm in form yet soft when pierced with a fork. His friends and family urged him on. When the holidays rolled around, they would request, “The carrot cake, the carrot cake!” Then he began to sell the product in churches and restaurants. Jones found that people really like it. “Their eyes would light up immediately,” said Jones. He thought to himself, “Man, I really got something here.”
He recalled the response from one one board member of Manhattan Bible Church, Jonathan Walter. After devouring a slice of cake, Jones said Walter exclaimed to him, “Mr. Jones, You really need to get this out there!”
As demand and affection for his carrot cake grew, so did Jones' vision.
Originally, he foresaw the bakery as an extension of The Love Kitchen, a food pantry and kitchen that he runs with one employee and three volunteers as part of the ministry since 1988 of Manhattan Bible Church at Inwood in northern Manhattan. He thought he would call it The Love Kitchen Cafe and Bakery. Then, friends, who knew of Jones’ cooking creativity suggested that he ought to call his bakery something that would reflect his creative approach as well as his spiritual motivation. They suggested “A New Creation,” based on a passage from the second letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the early Christians in Corinthians. The passage (5:17) reads, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
Finally, in 2010, Jones started A New Creation Bakery, a non-profit business located at The Love Kitchen.
The Long Road Home
What brought Jones to New York was not church life, but food life. In 1970, an opportunity to open an IHOP restaurant (International House of Pancakes) in Riverdale arose and Jones and his family trekked to New York City that June. New York became the city in which Jones fell in love with baking again (the first time being when he was 8 years). But Jones would have to undergo a momentous change of the heart before he would reclaim his affection for baking.
Jones wasn't born a believer. There were times in his life when he thought he was better off without God. A year after the El Dorados' #1 hit, Jones married his wife Pat and they soon had three children, two girls and one boy. As he gained a reputation in the restaurant business, it became more and more apparent to him that he didn't need God-- or his family. His marriage to Pat was on the rocks, and they decided to divorce. He bid his children goodbye. Tanya, his daughter, said to him, “I'll spit on your grave.”
Pat sought out child support and alimony from Jones, but the destruction reached depths too late to fix for Jones. For many years, his children detested him. Jewel Jr., his son, lashed out his anger through drugs and robbery. All the while, Jones was nurturing another family.
Jones remembers laying in bed one day and in his desperation he cried out for God. “I was so hungry for something I've never had before. All the things that money could buy, all the places that I've gone, all the people I've rubbed shoulders with, all the stages I had been on in life... They didn't fill me up, they didn't satisfy,” he said. It was a breakthrough moment. Was Jones laying in the dark? Or was it daytime and sunlight was piercing through the windows? These details hardly seem to matter. It was an internal change. His heart was changing.
“Jesus Christ showed me what that love looked like. He has given me a love that surpasses all understanding and I want to share that with others,” remarked Jones. From henceforth, Jones' mission was to spread the love of Christ and change people the way it changed him. This meant changing the lives of his family.
Shortly after his awakening, Jones knew that the next step was to make peace with the pain he'd contributed to the lives of his family. Reaching out to them wasn't easy, but at least Jones felt ready to make a come back. It took him over a year to mend the relationships with his family. By then, they were adults, some with families of their own. “It looked like it was broken beyond remedy,” said Jones of his family,
Jones regrets the precious live moments he missed out on, like weddings and the birth of his grandchildren. At least now, he had a different perspective. He called for a family meeting, where he apologized to his children and told them he had made a mistake. Pat was the first to notice. “He changed, his life has changed because he accepted Christ,” said Pat regarding their first meeting after he got saved.
One by one, his children got to know their father again and one by one, they became believers. Jones now models his bakery on love.
Jones says that he wants the bakery to help people leave troubles, build the community and create trust through transparency in how the bakery handles its business. “We may be selling cupcakes and sandwiches, but we're really in the business of people,” says Jones. He sees the bakery as a place that people can change their lives for the best. This in turn will build the community.
He observes that A New Creation Bakery depends on its customers, employees, suppliers, and funders. He also has the able help of baker Derrick See and marketer Colin Quek. The bakery provides job opportunities and plows back its profits into The Love Kitchen. So, it can’t be sustained without the support of volunteers, organizations and the community.
There is one community that Jones carries in his heart--Inwood. Many of the local people are barely getting by and some not even that. According to City Data, 26% of residents in Inwood had income below the poverty level in 2009. The poverty figure is about 12% higher than that for the rest of New York State. Jones aims for the bakery to contribute to the Inwood community by funding the soup kitchen and food pantry. Furthermore, Jones believes transparency of financial figures, goals, and issues is crucial to building trust among those who lost the ability to trust because of hardships. His business strategy is an unusual one. It embraces vulnerability.
The bakery is formed with a business model that comes right from the heart. A New Creation Bakery is founded upon the notion of rebirth, where old things have passed away and the new is present. It was a rebirth in Jones' life and for what he hopes is an awakening in the hearts of those he feeds too. But the business is an accumulation of many passions of Jones.
A New Creations Bakery was in “an experimental state in its first year,” says Jones. It needed to sort out the kinks of a newly opened business and wasn't up and running full blast until early 2011. Now the business has tasteful embossed cards and with a simple cupcake logo to boot. Customers can order the baked goods online to pick up in person or have it delivered for a small fee. Each order is neatly packed in a glossy white box with a handwritten note of thanks to the customer helping to alleviate poverty in Inwood.
The bakery has also developed connections with college campus Christian groups. This past Thanksgiving, A New Creation Bakery baked for an event at NYU's Christian Inter-Fellowship Council, one that aimed at raising awareness about hunger and homelessness in NYC.
Baking is an end to a means of Jones' other passion: people. “Food and people have combined itself right here. I have a heart for helping people, mending lives of people, and food. So combining the two, we were able to open the doors 23 years ago and feed homeless people,” explained Jones.
Jones has seen and met a lot of people. He's seen them get off the streets and off poverty. “Transformation came not through us, but from God. We were just the instruments of him that he used to touch peoples lives,” said Jones. Dozens of people have come back years later, they drop by to have a word with Jones, in memory of when the Love Kitchen's efforts helped them through tough times and how they'd pray together. Sometimes Jones remembers them, and sometimes their faces are unfamiliar. They would tell Jones about how they've found a job, or went back to their families, or got off drugs. When they would visit the Love Kitchen after regaining a stable life, they would say to Jones, “I just wanted to come back and thank you.” It was an overall expression of gratitude, of both the Love Kitchen's meals and the emotional support from Jones. But that is not to say these relationships didn't impact Jones as well.
One such individual who touched Jones' life was Shorty; his real name was Ronald Miller. Shorty was a drug dealer in the Inwood area. He dealt drugs to the people who come to the daily feedings. At first, Jones didn't like the guy. As short as Shorty was, he would stand up to the big burly guys and wasn't afraid to speak to anyone. “After being in prison a couple of times, he just had a way with people,” Jones reminisced.
Shorty complained about problems with the police in New Jersey and New York. He claimed he had offenses that were pending in court and sought advice from Jones. Jones' answer was, “Jesus. Pray and ask God to help you through this and see what God can do for you.” Sure enough, Shorty prayed and the courts threw out the charges. Shorty said to Jones, “Hey, this is good stuff! I'm going to keep hanging out with you.”
Then he came up to Jones a few months later and said, “I've got one for you. I'm HIV positive. I just found out. What are you going to do about that?”
Jones' answer was, “Jesus. You've got HIV, but now you need to get through it.” Jones invited Shorty to church and soon they started spending time together. Shorty got involved in selling wheat grass, which improved his t-cell count, and shared his knowledge of juicing with Jones, which appealed to Jones' interest in food. Shorty got saved in Manhattan Bible Church.
Years later, Shorty started getting sick and he gave Jones the power of attorney. On the way to the hospital, Shorty and Jones encountered a homeless man asking for a dollar. Shorty stuck his hand in his pocket to reach for a bill, but before giving it over to the man, he grabbed the man's hand and said, “I know what you're going to do with it.” Right there on the street, Shorty shared with the man his own story. The guy went on his way.
Two weeks later, Shorty passed.
When I asked Jones what is it about Shorty that impacted him as much as it did. Jones replied, “Just the way Shorty lived his life, he was a thug and a schemer. Yet, I saw how he made transformations in his life.” Pausing for a second with his hands clasped and resting on his knees, which were crossed on top of one another as he sat in his chair, Jones then continued, “The way Shorty pushed drugs was the way he pushed God [after becoming a believer]. He just replaced one with the other.”
With eyes of endearment and reminiscent, a delicate smile crept across Jones' face. His skin showed wear. Lines stretched out across his forehead. The baseball hat he wore barely kept his gray hairs from showing. Yet, his spirit was youthful. He had a bounce to his step and a lyrical note to his voice.
He was the type of person who'd let life's precious moments touch him so deeply that talking about them years later was like reliving these moments. We sat there in silence. White noise quietly hummed from the corner of the space, a modest room filled with both file cabinets and canned goods. The beating of foot steps echoed in my ears as staff walked in and out retrieving supplies. A slight wave of air came through the crack of the door. For an instant, social mission, profits, and baking were forgotten.
And then it hit me like a pound of sugar. A New Creation Bakery sought to change lives. But this mission wasn't new for Jones. His whole life, he has wanted to help people. Now, he found a delicious way to do it again—baking for people.
When Jones brought out the carrot cake, my heart was feeling how deeply he cared for Shorty. From the moment I took the first spoonful, I could taste the love.