During the pandemic, 2005 Engineering graduate Lauren Hedvat took a career turn from investment banking to found Noosh Kneads, a challah-baking business.
After spending nearly 15 years working in the corporate world, Hedvat — who earned a dual degree in economics as well as systems science and engineering in addition to a master’s degree in Systems Engineering — said that she found herself with a lot of time on her hands, and began baking frequently. At first, she just sold a few loaves a week through her Instagram. When the business started taking off, she decided to create her own website.
“What was sort of just a weekly sharing on Instagram stories with friends guessing what flavor of the week I was baking turned into a lot of people asking me if I was selling the challah,” Hedvat said. “I originally laughed the question off, because I was just at home baking bread. Like everybody else was during the pandemic. After enough people asked me, I realized there’s clearly a market for this. I enjoy entrepreneurial things. So eventually, I just thought why not?”
After receiving her M.A. from Penn and taking courses in the Wharton MBA Program, Hedvat entered the finance world and served in various roles at Goldman Sachs until 2020, when she decided to look into working at a startup. She credited the engineering entrepreneurship coursework she took on during her time at Penn for inspiring this career choice, adding that it opened her eyes to what life at a startup could look like.
“Instead of forcing conversations, I took the time to really reflect on what I wanted to do,” Hedvat said.
She initially planned to spend a couple of months of time traveling, and then get back to work. This plan, however, was derailed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hedvat said that she made the most of the lockdown, and she started her own consulting firm while ramping up her baking.
Now, she said, she has shipped her creations as far as California and has a base of regular customers.
Since the beginning of Noosh Kneads, Hedvat has created a new “flavor of the week” every week. She has now made over 150 different flavors of challah, ranging from caramelized onion and pizza to raspberry cheesecake and rosewater almond. Hedvat added that if a flavor of the week becomes a hit, she often will put it on the permanent menu.
“I think the great part of this business, even as I continued it as my ‘side hustle,’ is that it’s given me so many different skills and ways of looking at business more holistically,” Hedvat said. “I can use my experience in the world of finance within my own business, but I get to apply my own creativity to it as well.”
Baking has also allowed Hedvat to connect with her family. While she learned to cook from her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, she taught herself how to bake challah specifically. During the pandemic, she said that her grandmother was in a care facility and spent time on a ventilator, unable to verbally communicate. Her family also couldn't visit the facility due to the COVID-19 restrictions in place. However, she said, she was able to FaceTime her grandma while she was baking, which “made her face light up.”
Since starting Noosh Kneads, Hedvat returned to the corporate world, working at a company called Nitra. However, she added that the flexibility of her hybrid work environment has allowed her to sustain Noosh Kneads.
According to Hedvat, she has reached a point where she is content with her career, planning now to “take things as they come.”
"I'm grateful to be able to continue this passion and continue to grow it while also being able to do my other passion, which is more in this startup tech environment. I feel like I’m in the best of both worlds," she said.
Noosh Kneads will also provide a discount for customers from Penn's student body. Penn students interested in purchasing something from the company can use the discount code "PENN" which will provide 10% off on orders from Oct. 1-Dec. 31, 2022.