Hot Bread Kitchen

April 12, 2012

I finally visited Hot Bread Kitchen today. I should have written about about them earlier, I’m not sure why it took me so  long. The founder and CEO, Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez, is a SIPA alum and she came to speak in my budgeting class last semester about her incredible social enterprise. She was the first person I had ever met whose life felt like something that I wanted–she has managed to put together her desire to improve other people’s lives with her love of food in a way that was innovative, exciting, and successful. As she said today, she was the kind of person who would be sitting at her desk at UNDP researching immigration issues and thinking about what she was going to have for dinner that night. That pretty much sums it up, right? That’s 100% where I was while working at UNICEF (or sitting in class now, if we’re being honest) and her story was illuminating for me.

Her social enterprise, Hot Bread Kitchen, is a bakery that teaches immigrant woman how to bake delicious breads, English, management skills, and pretty much anything else that they will need to then be placed in a commercial bakery or start their own business after graduating from the training program. Hot Bread Kitchen also runs a kitchen incubator, where entrepreneurs can rent spaces in a commercial kitchen to produce food in a more useful, modular way than most kitchen incubators. The whole facility where they operate, La Marqueta, in Harlem was recently converted by the city for them, and is kind of incredible. It’s been a marketplace for decades, and you can feel the revitalization, the energy that’s starting to emanate from the Hot Bread Kitchen space. In the baking area, women kneaded, stretched, weighed and cut dough. The four of them chatted, laughing, like friends amidst a fine covering of flour. In the HBK Incubates space, turmeric and onions simmered fragrantly in the space being used by Hiyaw Gebreyohannes, the creator of Taste of Ethiopia. It was easy to see why he was featured in the Times yesterday, I think all of our stomachs collectively grumbled as we spied the pots. In another space, the chefs behind La Newyorkina, leaders in New York’s popsicle movement (they sell their paletas on the High Line and other places) were mixing up a vibrant yellow batch of mango frozen treats as a tenant (their business is pretty successful, they just needed a licensed commercial kitchen.) The whole building had the kind of wholesome buzzy energy that only comes with creating something delicious.

Jessamyn’s story was transformative to me, it led me to figure out how I’m going to put together my skills, education and passion all together (hopefully.) It was great to see their facility and put a proverbial face with the story I’ve thought so much about over the last eight months. It’s just so cool. Oh, and if you live in New York or in the Northeast and have a Whole Foods near you, you should buy their bread.

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