You may recognize the Hot Bread Kitchen logo from the group of women selling exotic breads at farmers markets throughout the city or in your neighborhood Whole Foods. This non-profit started by Jessamyn Rodriguez, uses food production, namely bread, as a way to empower and create jobs for low-income and immigrant women in New York City. Hot Bread Kitchen’s newest venture is HBK Incubates, a commercial kitchen space designed to help food entrepreneurs develop and scale up their business without the burden of huge startup costs.
The one and a half year old program was originally designed to create business growth and entrepreneurial opportunities for bread bakers, but it is currently providing working space and facilities for a slew of food entrepreneurs in New York City.
HBK Incubates creates a social space where food businesses can collaborate and share resources.
(Sandra Vu, Program Director at HBK Incubates)
Interviewed at the kitchen incubator space, located in Harlem’s La Marqueta, Sandra Vu, the program director, says the small food business is a “lonely road.” Vu explains that “HBK Incubates creates a social space where food businesses can collaborate and share resources.”
In a city saturated with food ventures, the selection process is very discerning. Food business owners must present a detailed business plan, including their market analysis and letters of recommendation. The HBK Incubates selection committee is made up of staff and food industry advisors. The program not only offers a commercial kitchen space and businessdevelopment workshops, but also the learning curve of how to scale-up production and comply with city and state regulations.
Entrepreneurs include Paula Barbosa from My Sweet, who makes haute versions of the Brazilian confections, brigadeiros, in the incubator kitchen. She found out about the program from her business partner, and has been using the kitchen to keep up with the demand that she received after being featured in the New York Times. My Sweet is sold in gourmet markets throughout the city.
Pipsnacks were started by the sibling duo Jen and Jeff Martin, who use the incubator space to pop and package their “no hull” popcorn. It has given them the freedom to expand to catering events and supplying their stand at Smorgasburg market in Brooklyn. These businesses among other incubator participants will soon be featured at Hot Bread Kitchen’s retail space in La Marqueta alongside their handmade / artisanal breads.
Vu, a young, energetic woman and recent graduate of New York University’s food studies program has an intense relationship with many of the food businesses, and frequently takes on the position of mother hen. The program currently houses around twenty-nine businesses whose interactions are building blocks for food empowerment in Harlem. She would love to see the program and its food entrepreneurs “strengthen the culinary community.”