They came, they smelled and they knocked. In fact, they kept knocking on the windows so often, and asking to buy so much bread, that Hot Bread Kitchen founder Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez eventually had to come up with a solution.
“That’s why we opened a store: to stop them from asking questions,” she said jokingly.
The impact Rodriguez is having in East Harlem, however, is no laughing matter.
Since its inception in January 2011, Hot Bread Kitchen Incubator has helped to launch 35 local food businesses in New York. In addition, Hot Bread Kitchen Bakery, the nonprofit’s flagship program, has helped immigrants learn the nuances of baking and selling their own products.
Now, after listening to locals clamor for a retail store for the past year-and-a-half, founder Rodriguez decided to give in.
The result: Hot Bread Almacen, a retail store recently born in the historic La Marqueta market space in East Harlem.
Built with the funding from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, Almacen is the culmination of Rodriguez’s tripartite vision for Hot Bread Kitchen: A bakery, to teach immigrant women; an incubator, to help local small food businesses, and the Almacen, the retail store which will essentially serve as the face of the program.
The store is situated near the entrance at La Marqueta and features all of the breads from the Hot Bread Kitchen Bakery, located a couple blocks away.
Since opening less than a month ago, the most popular item has been the Bialy Al Barrio, a unique twist on the traditional Jewish roll that’s somewhat similar to a bagel in shape and texture. At the Almacen, it’s stuffed with caramelized onions, poppy seeds, a fried egg, hot sauce and cheese, a concoction Rodriguez described as an homage to East Harlem.
“La Marqueta has always been the center of food entrepreneurial energy, so we were proud to be part of the revitalization here,” she said.
“Fact is, people in Harlem just really love great bread.”
Other than showcasing the bakery’s famous breads, the Almacen also offers some foods from companies in the incubator program.
Rodriguez, who moved to Harlem to start the business, said this allows those burgeoning companies to learn how to navigate the food business in the real world.
“For many of the stores, the Almacen is their first kind of official client.” Rodriguez said.
One such company is pipSnacks, a local business built by the brother-sister tandem of Jennifer and Jeff Martin.
The siblings put their own spin on popcorn: They say their hulless kernels are smaller, easier to digest and come in four (soon to be five) flavors ranging from sea salt to the best-selling rosemary.
The Martins readily admitted that they knew little about running a small business at first; they credited the incubator, where they rented kitchen space, with being instrumental in their business’s growth.
“They taught us little technical things like workers’ compensation or even finding employees; they walked us through everything,” Jeff Martin said.
“I love it at HBK,” added Jennifer. “Everyone here is so helpful showing us how to grow our business. There is no competitiveness; no one is trying to step on each other’s toes.”
- What’s New: Hot Bread Kitchen in East Harlem (harlemworldmag.com)