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Thinking Ahead: Changing the Face of the Food Industry



This post is part of NYCEDC’s Thinking Ahead series, which features editorials from New York City leaders and influencers across key sectors and neighborhoods to foster dialogue around the issues impacting our city. Read more Thinking Ahead posts here.

The following was written by Jessamyn Rodriguez, Founder and CEO of Hot Bread Kitchen (HBK), a social enterprise bakery that supports low-income, immigrant, and minority entrepreneurs through on-the-job training and business development.

In 2011, NYCEDC partnered with HBK to develop HBK Incubates, a 1600 square foot bakery space at East Harlem’s historic La Marqueta to help culinary entrepreneurs get started in the industry. The non-profit kitchen serves double duty as a commercial business and training space, increasing economic security for immigrant women through their workforce development program and advancing opportunity for food entrepreneurs through HBK Incubates.

Here, Jessamyn elaborates on the edifying impact food can have in addressing workforce inequity.

The thing that I love most about New York City is the food. 

On every block, you can find unique flavors, tastes, and cuisines. This diversity is driven by innovative entrepreneurs who risk much to break into the risky food industry; some with fabulous success, others less so. 

The reality is that three million New York City residents are foreign-born. But in the hospitality industry—which employs 20% of New York City's minorities—immigrants and women are vastly underrepresented in managerial positions. Still, studies show that foreign-born individuals are more likely to open their own enterprise than their native-born counterparts, particularly in low-income neighborhoods like East Harlem.

This paradox posed a unique challenge for me: how do we build on the talents of these individuals and turn them into marketable experience?

Six years ago, I started Hot Bread Kitchen out of my home kitchen to address this workforce inequity and change the face of the food industry. I noticed that talented home cooks were struggling to access jobs with real opportunity or get a foothold in the growing artisanal food industry. Early on, I met a woman named Maria* who was efficient, intuitive, and talented in the kitchen but had worked in a garment factory in Bushwick at minimum wage for nearly 14 years. I knew that New Yorkers were hungry for her delicious tortillas and that she would thrive in a job where she could apply her talent. I committed myself to creating a non-profit that would help women like her leverage those skills. hbk incubates

Our on-the-job training program allows talented low-income and immigrant women to build on their strengths, while training in professional skills and baking experience that will help them secure well-paid jobs in the food industry. Not only do our trainees bake the bread we sell, but many have also contributed recipes from their home countries that make up our multi-ethnic product line.

This year, we’ll train 30 women in bread baking; already in 2015, we’ve graduated five women into some of the city’s best bakeries.

In 2011, we partnered with NYCEDC to develop HBK Incubates, a 1600 square foot bakery space at East Harlem’s La Marqueta to help culinary entrepreneurs get started in the industry. HBK Incubates has become home to forty-five start-up food companies where minority entrepreneurs are growing their businesses into thriving enterprises.

As the only food incubator in New York City that prioritizes minority applicants, we are growing a new vision for the city’s diverse food culture. With both programs, our aim is to change the face of the food industry, starting with those that impact it the most.

*name has been changed for privacy

What's your favorite food business in NYC? Let us know how it reflects NYC's diversity on Twitter by tagging your response with #ThinkingAheadNYC. 



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