Rich confections

The belief that something good will come out of everything bad led Netta Korin on a life journey – from Wall Street to a Tel Aviv bakery.

Bakery 29 521 (photo credit: Shai Epstein)
Bakery 29 521
(photo credit: Shai Epstein)
If ever a story deserved a film version, this is it. It all began one day, when a 19-yearold student at the Technion realized he was late for his bus. He ran for it, but in his haste, didn’t see an oncoming car. As passersby watched in horror, the car struck the young man, critically injuring him.
An ambulance brought him to the hospital, but few expected him to survive. Even those who thought he might live said he’d never walk again, and certainly he wouldn’t father any children.
At least one person, a young nurse, refused to believe it. With a devotion that turned into love, she nursed him back to health. Five years after the accident they were married, and three children came along, the second of whom they named Netta.
“When I was five, my parents left Israel and moved first to Michigan, then to Connecticut, where I grew up,” Netta Korin, 37, now a resident of Tel Aviv, recalls.
“It was because of my parents’ experience that I came to believe that out of everything bad, something good will come.”
In Connecticut, life wasn’t easy for the young immigrant family.
“They came to the States in 1979 with three kids and $10,000 in savings.
My parents were wonderful, they did a great job with all three of us, but it was a stressful time, and some of that sank into me. I came to the conclusion that if you had money, all your problems would be solved. I promised myself that someday I would be rich.
By the time I was 19, I’d even set a goal. By my 25th birthday, I told myself, I would be a millionaire – don’t ask me how I was going to do it.
It was totally ridiculous for me to think such a thing. Still, I had this very clear vision that I’d be a millionaire at 25.”
Korin prepared herself with an excellent education: graduate and undergraduate degrees in economics and international economics from Johns Hopkins, followed by a European master’s from SAIS, the School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy.
“Then I started work as an investment banker. My vision came true: By the time I was 25, I was a millionaire.”
Then came September 11, 2001.
“I was running Sigma Capital, a hedge fund. A few months before, investment guru Stevie Cohen had asked me to move from London to New York and run the fund for him there; so on 9/11, I was relatively new in New York. I was 28 years old and had 15 traders working for me – all of them men and older than I was.
“When the planes hit, the fund was maybe $300 million to $400m. The market closed for three days, and when it reopened, my guys spent their time going to funerals, while I sat at my desk and struggled.
“How could I possibly avoid losing a fortune for our investors? I pictured the families who’d believed in us and trusted us with their money.
I put my emotions on freeze and focused on salvaging what I could.”
One night remains clear in Korin’s mind.
“It was maybe 11 p.m, I was still at my desk.
After enduring that kind of stress for the last several weeks, I knew that this kind of life wasn’t healthy for me. This wasn’t my company, and yet I personally had so much at risk. I decided that opening my own company would be better. Then I could do it my way, in my style.
“It took a year, but I left Sigma and started my own hedge fund. But the thing that really matters is that I had a six-month cooling-off period where legally I couldn’t work. It was the first time in my life I’d had what’s known as ‘time off.’ Up to then, I’d had no social life, no nothing, just work.
“One morning I woke up, and thought, “I don’t have to go to work today. What shall I do with myself?’ Having recently purchased an apartment, Korin decided she should furnish it, so she set out walking.
“I found myself on the fourth floor of ABC Carpet and Home, looking at couches, but it was too much. I called one of the guys who’d worked for me. ‘David,’ I said, ‘I have no idea what to do with my life when I’m not working.’ “We talked, and I knew I had to change everything.”
By this time, it was 2002, and the height of the second intifada.
“Buses were blowing up left and right, and that situation called out to me. I wanted to do something. I telephoned several Israeli charities and left messages saying only that I was a businesswoman, I was in a position to help, and would they please return my call.
“Only one did, Friends of the IDF. We talked, and they suggested that the next time I came to Israel, I should take a tour with them and perhaps that might help me decide. I went, and spent a week touring army and air force bases all over Israel. I saw and heard things I never knew existed.
“One officer told me they had several men who had to stay on base during their leaves because there was no food for them at their homes. ‘We give them money out of our own pockets,’ he told me. ‘We need help.’ “That moment changed my life,” Korin says.
“Of course, you have to remember that I wanted my life to change,” she smiles. “As I said, I’d wanted to make a lot of money. I’d done that, and I was still miserable. In coming to Israel, I’d found a purpose. Helping the army became my goal. Every morning I woke up thinking, ‘How can I help Israeli soldiers?’” A major transformation was underway.
“I started by adopting seven soldiers, whom I put through school through the Friends of the IDF Impact Program, which provides scholarships to IDF soldiers following their active duty.
Each year, I added more.
“Then came the Second Lebanon War in 2006. I’d come to Israel to launch a program for wounded soldiers and met a guy. I fell completely in love, and started to spend more and more time in Israel. Finally, I moved here – only to have us break up eight months later.”
Another major turning point.
“I can’t even describe how hard I took the breakup. I was totally devastated. The only thing I could force myself to do was run. Get this – after never having been a runner before, I ran a marathon! Becoming physically strong was part of my healing process, but it wasn’t enough.
“I was running, and sort of casually managing the hedge fund from here, but I was miserable all over again.”
Once more, a friend came to the rescue.
“Running is good,” he told Korin. “But with all your experience and ability, you’re really wasting your life. You ought to be doing something positive. What would you like to do?” “Without even thinking about it, I said, “I’d like to open a small place and sell my cookies.”
SELL COOKIES? Where did that come from? “After I went through the breakup, Friday nights were really difficult for me. I was alone in Israel, my family was in the States, and Fridays are for families. Instead of being alone and feeling sorry for myself, I started throwing dinner parties for 10 or 20 people.
“I’d cook and bake, and then at the end of the meal, I’d bring out platters of my oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. If I happened to go back into the kitchen, by the time I returned, there wouldn’t even be any crumbs left! “It was almost rude,” Korin laughs. “They wouldn’t even leave a crumb for me! Everyone always said I should open a bakery, but I never took it seriously. I’m Wall Street! How could I open a cookie place?” Nevertheless, the idea grew, and Bakery 29 was born – except that what started as a dream of a small cookie shop turned into a massive bakery plus an elegant, high-end restaurant, with all the proceeds dedicated to charity.
“Through the Impact Program, we now have soldiers studying in some 80 institutions throughout Israel. In 2009 alone, we granted 2,439 Impact Scholarships. Over 1400 Impact students have already graduated.”
Korin recalls an unusual visitor to Bakery 29.
“It was late afternoon, and an elderly man walked in and looked around. I went over to him, asked if I could help, but apparently he couldn’t speak. He indicated that all he wanted was plain coffee. I brought him the coffee and a few cookies too, just in case.
“Later I went back to ask if everything was okay. He grabbed my hand, and I’ll never forget his words. He’d been too emotional to speak before, he said, but now he wanted to tell me that he’d served in the army for a very long time.
“‘I can’t thank you enough for all you’re doing for the soldiers,’ he told me.
“I completely lost it – I had to go into the bathroom to calm myself down. I’d worked so hard to make this happen, and there it was: I was finally doing what I wanted to do with my life.
“In the beginning, I was working to fill a void within myself. Now I’m doing it because I want to make the world a better place. I’m not doing it to make myself happy anymore, but rather because it’s the right thing to do.”
Bakery 29 serves an impressive array of cookies, cakes, muffins, breads, chocolates, jams, salads, pizzas and sandwiches. Best-sellers include a chocolate cheesecake, cinnamon rolls and, of course, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.
By night, the bakery turns into a chic private restaurant.
“People are always looking for an elegant kosher restaurant in Tel Aviv to hold private, high-end dinners,” Korin says. “My chef does magnificent five-course meals. He asks if there’s anything the client doesn’t like, then goes to the market, comes back and prepares a fresh, first-class meal. Whatever guests want or need, we have it.”
Where does the “29” come from? The address.
Bakery 29 is located at Rehov Ahad Ha’am 29 – just down the street from the stock market.
“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” Korin grins.

Bakery 29 is kosher and located at Rehov Ahad Ha’am 29, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 560-2020. Closed for Pessah.