Hot Bread Kitchen is a social enterprise in Harlem that's teaching immigrant women the skills needed to access jobs in NYC's specialty food industry through baking breads native to their home countries. HBK also operates a business incubator for culinary startups, providing coaching sessions and other skills-based learning for promising food-focused young businesses. HBK brings in revenue through the sale of their multi-ethnic breads, which are baked using local and organic ingredients and inspired by the women’s heritage, as well as through commercial kitchen rental as part of HBK Incubates. We talked with HBK Founder and CEO Jessamyn Rodriguez about her experience starting and growing a social enterprise, and how our readers can get involved with their exciting work.
What are the major challenges you’ve faced since opening HBK, and as you’ve grown, and how have you moved past them? What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing currently?
It's very hard to name just a few. I like to say that a better question is, "What was the biggest challenge you faced today?" Starting and growing a social enterprise brings new challenges constantly. Right now, I'm faced with the challenge of finding the right talent to take my business to the next level.
When starting out as a social entrepreneur, how did you think about earned income? Was it always a core piece of your strategy? What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs on how to take that first step?
It was always both—the vision was always to operate a business that would have a social impact at the same time. My advice would be to prove that there’s a market for your product before anything else. Everything else will follow.
How many women have you trained since inception? From how many countries? How many women are you hoping to train moving forward?
As of now, we’ve trained 45 women from 17 different countries. We will be able to train 80 women each year in New York when we’re at scale.
Where did the recipes for some of your more exotic breads come from?
The recipes are inspired by the women and their native countries. Often times the women will bring in their recipes, and then our master chef, Ben Hershberger, will develop those recipes into breads that we can bake and sell.
Are you planning to replicate the HBK model in other neighborhoods or cities? If so, what is your timeline for doing so, and where would you think about first?
We are not going to replicate again within the tri-state area—we only want to train as many women as we can place. Otherwise, we'll over-saturate the market, and our women will end up competing with another.
We will not be opening additional locations in 2014, but we're considering expanding to 5 cities during the 2015 calendar year. I don't yet know which cities those will be, as there are a number of determining factors at play that we're currently assessing.
You have an impressive list of accounts, such as Whole Foods and Greenmarkets throughout the city. How are you continually identifying new partnerships and growing that network?
We have a fully developed sales force that manages our accounts. Some of those accounts purchase our bread solely as a product, but others, such as Whole Foods, are motivated by our social mission. We run our sales force just like a for-profit bakery would.
Do you have any additional revenue-creating projects in the pipeline? A cookbook, perhaps?
Yes, we are publishing a cookbook! It's being published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, and will be ready for sale in September 2015.
However, we rely primarily on our three main revenue streams, which we’re constantly building. For our incubator, we’re working to grow those businesses and to get more space to allow them to expand. We’re constantly developing new bread products. And our philanthropic partners continue to provide a significant portion of our revenue.
How can our readers support and get involved with HBK?