Hanukkah gifts & food | Enterprising moms create Hanukkah goodies for families

Gingerbread menorahs? Salvaged-wood dreidels?

Three Bay Area women seeking to make Hanukkah more fun for their families accomplished their goal — and developed unique gift items for others as well.

Susan Mayost used to make gingerbread houses with her family during the end-of-the-year holiday season, but after a while, the traditionally Christmas-focused activity got old.

An unassembled make-your-own gingerbread menorah kit

“I’m from South Africa, and with the whole concept of gingerbread — I didn’t understand how exciting and big it was until we came to live here and came to love it,” Mayost said. Still, as a Jewish family, putting together gingerbread houses made her uncomfortable.

Wanting to find a way to help her family celebrate the Hanukkah traditions while participating in the fun of gingerbread building and decorating inspired Mayost and her friend (now business partner) Lisa Kinne in their search for a business venture of their own. Their recently launched Sweet Thrills Bakeshop offers a line of gingerbread menorah decorating kits, which include chocolate gingerbread cookies that can be assembled into three-dimensional menorah shapes.

The kits come in three versions — an unassembled mini-kit, an assembled mini-kit, and a larger unassembled kit. All include the gingerbread cookie parts, a variety of candy to decorate the menorahs, and a booklet that includes the story of Hanukkah and facts about the holiday. The kits range in price from $19.95 to $29.95.

the assembled and decorated gingerbread menorahs

Mayost and Kinne, who met about seven years ago in a prenatal yoga class, began brainstorming for ideas last year, but didn’t release their product until September.

“A product like this didn’t exist yet for the Jewish community, so it was important for us to be thoughtful and careful with it,” Kinne said.

There was also a learning curve, as neither Mayost, who has degrees in fine art and education, nor Kinne, with a background in media production, had ever started a business. Even for Mayost, a talented baker, it was hard to predict the nuances of baking gingerbread in mass quantities and dealing with issues such as how the cookies react to different climates.

The kits are available online at www.sweetthrillsbakeshop.com, and at Bryan’s Grocery in San Francisco, and Mayost and Kinne will be at events like the Festival of Lights at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael on Nov. 24.

Mayost, a San Rafael resident, and Kinne, of San Francisco, hope to expand their line of products and increase sales. But with a small team of four people, including themselves, operating out of a rented commercial kitchen in San Francisco, they want to make sure they can deliver what they promise.

Stephanie Lipow crafts a dreidel.

“We want to deliver a quality product,” Mayost said of the menorah kits, “something people can look forward to  every year.”

Another homegrown Hanukkah item is Stephanie Lipow’s handcrafted redwood dreidel.

Almost 10 years after her mother passed away, Stephanie Lipow is re-launching the Dreidel Factory, a wooden dreidel-making business her mother, Anne Lipow, started in 1974 in Berkeley, where Lipow grew up.

“Whenever a friend happened to see one of the ‘first generation’ of dreidels, they would ask where I got it,” said Lipow, who now lives in Alameda. “And I would tell the story of my mom and the Dreidel Factory, and explain that they weren’t for sale anymore. After hearing myself tell the story over and over, year after year, I realized there was still a real interest in quality handmade dreidels. So I decided to re-launch the family business.”

The dreidels are made from salvaged or scrap redwood. Each letter is individually burned, and the dreidels are hand-sanded and sealed with nontoxic linseed oil and beeswax. They cost $15 each.

Stephanie’s mother, Anne (center), plays a game with her Dreidel Factory partners in the ’70s.

Lipow is selling the dreidels online at her site, www.dreidelfactory.com, which she launched in October, and in temple gift shops.

With Hanukkah falling early this year, it was tough to get the business up and running in time to sell before the holiday, Lipow said. But she hopes to market the dreidels more widely next year, with the possibility of adding other products.

Her mother, a University of California librarian, began making dreidels when she grew frustrated at only being able to find cheap, plastic ones, Lipow said. After enlisting friends to help in the process, her mother made the wooden spinning tops in the garage and sold them on the weekends as a vendor on Telegraph Avenue, by mail order and at local craft fairs. As the friends grew busier, however, the business became dormant.

Lipow had long thought about reviving her mother’s practice, though. She was also spurred into action after her teenage daughter wrote a paper about dreidels and Lipow showed her some from the Dreidel Factory.

A contractor for the National Institutes of Health, Lipow works in bioinformatics and had never started her own business, but she was able to get both training and equipment from her mother’s former business partners.

And with help from her family in packaging the dreidels, it’s still a family business.

“I used to sell [the dreidels] with my mom on Telegraph, and I have great memories of that,” Lipow said.