Rather than a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a baguette was cut at the grand opening of Hot Bread Kitchen Almacén in East Harlem. From left to right: New York City Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito; New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn; Hot Bread Kitchen CEO Jessamyn Rodriguez; and HBK Incubates members Christina Bhan and Paula Barbosa
Bread and LIFE
Entrepreneurship in the kitchen
Story by Debralee Santos and Sandra E. García
Photos by Sandra E. García
Pan de bono, baguette, bagel.
No matter what your preference, little can compare with the taste, or smell, of freshly baked bread.
Long considered the stuff of life, bread, and the art of its making, is sparking a small – and delicious – revolution for entrepreneurial women from across the city.
This past Mon., July 23rd, Hot Bread Kitchen (HBK), the non-profit bread bakery providing low-income and foreign-born women with paid training to become professional bakers and food business owners inaugurated its retail location, Hot Bread Almacén.
Since 2010, HBK has served as anchor tenant and operator of an incubator kitchen in East Harlem, growth that has been facilitated by a number of partners, including the New York City Council, the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, and the New York City Economic Development Corporation, among others.
Rather than cutting a ribbon, the elected officials, community leaders and participating bakers and entrepreneurs together hosted a "baguette-cutting ceremony" on early Monday morning at La Marqueta on East 115th Street that focused on the financial and social empowerment afforded by HBK.
"We have a neighborhood of wonderful food and history, tremendous cultural creativity and diversity. We have people who wanted to work but didn't have the physical space they needed," said New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "We were able with a small capital investment to convert the back of La Marqueta into a wonderful incubator where businesses can grow."
Kenneth Knuckles, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ), which had also provided funding for the Almacén, served as the event emcee.
"We are very, very proud of this endeavor. The organization has provided a platform for small business and women to obtain training and become entrepreneurs. It directly aligns with our interests which is to provide small business and create jobs in northern Manhattan," said Knuckles.
Most of the participants at HBK are women and 70% are foreign born, and the goods baked at HBK can be found at 40 local grocery stores, and 18 exclusive restaurants.
HBK operates in a custom-built 4,600 square foot commercial kitchen and incubator at La Marqueta. There, the entrepreneurs benefit from an industrial-sized kitchen, recipe scale up, financial seminars, accounting, marketing, sales and packaging workshops, opportunities to market their product, and partnerships with other businesses.
Jessamyn Rodriguez, Chief Executive Officer of Hot Bread Kitchen, said the Almacén was a long time coming.
"Until today, we were like a cozy family without a front door," said Rodriguez. "[Now], our cozy home in the back has a front porch and a front door where people from the neighborhood and tourists can visit, buy our bread, learn more about our incubator program and even ask for jobs. We want to position La Marqueta to be an ongoing food destination."
New York City Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, who made certain to give everyone a quick Spanish-language lesson on the word almacén (which means general store), touted the development.
"Right here, we have a resource that is investing in our local entrepreneurs and giving them the support and technical assistance to work and hire forward within our own neighborhood," said Councilmember Mark-Viverito. "Our local entrepreneurs can really strengthen and diversify our economic base."
And the program's innovative developments have continued apace.
Despite the vital assistance provided by HBK, many low- income entrepreneurs find the start-up costs associated with formalizing their businesses prohibitive.
Incorporation, insurance, licensing and obtaining a food handler's certificate can add up to $2,000, costs incurred long before entering the kitchen.
With a grant from Citi Community Development, HBK has further established the Low Income Food Entrepreneurs (LIFE) program, which offers financial support to entrepreneurs selling food from home or street vendors for formalization costs.
It also offers kitchen access at highly subsidized rates, culinary support, business development workshops, ESOL and financial literacy classes.
HBK incubator members Christina Bhan and Paula Barbosa, creators of My Sweet Brigaideiro, know well how the HBK can prove transformative.
Barbosa and Bhan use the incubator to bake their brigadeiros, Brazilian treats made from a mixture of chocolate, condensed milk and butter, which are slowly cooked until the right consistency is met.
After cooling down, the brigadeiro molds into a round shape and is covered with chocolate sprinkles or nuts.
Barbosa and Bhan sell them online and in restaurants all over the city.
"We are both Brazilians and we grew up eating brigadeiros at every birthday party," explained Barbosa. "We realized we didn't have many available here so we decided to create Mysweet.com. Getting into the HBK incubator program let us know that we had the right product and put us in the right direction."
As they spoke, City Council Speaker Quinn, Councilmember Mark-Viverito selected again from a gold lined tray of brigadeiros with broad smiles.