In Union, cinnamon rolls always overcome gender roles

Van Gogh’s Ear Cafe tackles gender rolls by swapping them out with some delicious cinnamon rolls.

UNION, NJ — To celebrate and support International Women’s Day, a local business decided to focus on cinnamon rolls, not gender roles.

Van Gogh’s Ear Cafe, located on Stuyvesant Avenue in Union, pulled out all the stops to raise money for two organizations geared towards girls on March 8.

Sarah Perara, co-owner of the popular eatery, decided to raise funds for Girls who Code, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology. The organization offers programs in science, art, leadership and entrepreneurship to girls at no cost.

The “Cinnamon Rolls, not Gender Rolls” campaign donated 10 percent of all March 8 sales to the organizations, with the campaign continuing by donating all sales of cinnamon rolls, as well as campaign stickers, with sales being donated throughout the month of March.

Along with the campaign, Perara held a raffle, where customers were able to win some Women’s Day swag, as well as gift cards to Van Gogh’s Ear.

Perara, who co-owns the cafe with her brother Robert, told the Union Leader that she and her brother had been bouncing around ideas for International Women’s Day.

“Rob and I were talking about doing something for International Women’s Day that didn’t include closing the business since it was a mostly woman-owned business, with an all-women management team, with the exception of my brother Rob,” Perara said in a March 9 email. “So scouring the internet for ideas, I came across a shirt that someone had created that said “cinnamon rolls not gender rolls,” and the idea hit me.”

According to Perara, one of the bakers at her cafe is a man and Perara said they decided to use him as the basis for the campaign, while his fiancee offered to draw a graphic for the campaign, which was made into stickers in order to raise more money.

“The thought was, who doesn’t love a cinnamon roll?” Perara said. “It’s a perfect opportunity for our customers to indulge, and also donate to some great causes.”
Perara said that once the idea was born, she started doing her research into empowering area organizations geared towards girls.

“First I came across Girls Who Code, which was a great tie-in to the last project that Jason Krychiw and Rob Perara worked on, raising money for local girls to see ‘Hidden Figures,’” she said of a recent initiative that brought local girls to see the popular movie about women rising in math and technology fields.

“Upon further research, I learned that Union doesn’t have a chapter of Girls Who Code, so we are actually looking into how we can get that into Union Schools, or the library,” Sarah Perara said. “The Lower East Side Girls Club is actually an organization that a childhood friend of mine from Girl Scouts is currently working for. When I reached out to her, she told me all about a program, where they have a chef and a commercial kitchen that they are using to teach girls a trade and to make baked goods to sell at a market in New York City. Our money would be specifically going to this portion of their program.”

Sarah Perara said that although she does not have a background in science — and joked that in school she did not exactly excel in the sciences — she understands that women are underrepresented in this field.

“That was definitely something I considered when choosing Girls Who Code,” she said.

She added that the campaign generated plenty of positive feedback.
“We were definitely getting some great feedback about the day,” Sarah Perara said. “I am always a little worried when we do something that some people could see as politically driven, but I was very happy with the positive reactions.”

According to Sarah Perara, the cafe has a long history of female entrepreneurship. It was originally opened 20 years ago by women, then sold to another woman. Seven years ago, Sarah Perara bought the cafe with her mother and brother.

“Doing something to help to empower women in any way is very important to me,” Sarah Perara said. “I am the person who takes care of the business end of things at the cafe, so I am often overlooked and not taken seriously on a pretty regular basis.”

She said that she enjoyed seeing many mothers and daughters sitting down to lunch at the cafe on Women’s Day, wearing red T-shirts in honor of the day.
“The vibe was definitely a little different than a normal day at Van Gogh’s but it was great,” Sarah Perara said.

The cafe also supported Women’s History Month in Union by providing coffee and pastries for a township event at Town Hall on March 27, and the local entrepreneur said that she looks forward to more fundraising events.

“Seven years later, we are in the process of opening up a bakery next door — hopefully coming this summer — and thriving at Van Gogh’s Ear. We have developed an amazing community of customers, and employees that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Sarah Perara said. We are looking to the future to host many more fundraising events like International Women’s Day. Next month is Earth Day and we are already starting to plan for that. Rob and I decided after seven years in this business it was time to take that community that was created around Van Gogh’s Ear and use it for good.”