What do bread and a path to success for women have in common?
For a group of bakers in New York, the answer is a whole lot.
First, take a minute to feast your eyes on these delicious creations:
Or how about these little pieces of heaven?
Now that you're thinking about delicious, warm bread, let's get to the reason I'm torturing you with baked goodness: Hot Bread Kitchen.
Hot Bread Kitchen is a New York City-based bakery, and so much more... It gives foreign-born and low-income women a real opportunity to build a secure future.
Here's how it works: The bakery raises money for training programs by selling multiethnic breads — like Armenian lavash, Mexican nixtamal tortillas, Moroccan m'smen, Persian flatbreads, and Bangladeshi chapati — that are inspired by the women it serves.
(Even better: They don't use any chemical preservatives, colors, or flavors, and they source locally grown produce and grains. Double win!)
Jessamyn Rodriguez, CEO and founder of Hot Bread Kitchen, explains: "We help women who have skill and passion around the culinary arts become successful in the baking industry."
The delicious byproduct? "A line of multi-ethnic breads that we sell to help pay for a high quality training that includes math, English, and job skills."
Rodriguez told me that they're basically the United Nations of bread! (I love that.)
It might be hard to picture a bakery changing lives. But it has.
Take Altea, for instance. (Name has been changed to protect her privacy.)
Rodriguez shared her story with me: In 2011, Altea's dream came true. She won the green card lottery and migrated from Albania to America. In New York City, Altea found a job as a childcare provider for an Albanian family. But she wasn't making much money and she felt isolated. She wanted more opportunities for her future, but she didn't know how to get them.
A Hot Bread Kitchen graduate told Altea about the paid training program, and she started in 2013. Before long, she was a pro at mixing and shaping dough.
But she still wasn't fluent in English and faced an uphill battle as a result. She didn't let that stop her, though. Altea kept learning and soon was working on the commercial ovens where, Rodriguez said, "her true talents shined. It is one of the most difficult tasks in the bakery."
Altea's full-time position at Hot Bread Kitchen allowed her to earn 35% more money than her previous job, plus she gained healthcare, paid vacations, and other benefits.
In 2014, Altea was offered a full-time position as a shift manager at Hot Bread Kitchen, "earning 35% more than her job in childcare with paid vacations, healthcare, and other benefits," Rodriquez said.
Altea's hard work paid off. Today, she's a lead baker at Hot Bread Kitchen. She trains other bakers on the ovens, all while devoting time and energy outside work to developing her English skills.
"I am thankful for Hot Bread Kitchen for learning how to speak English and to work at a job I love," says Altea.
Graduates of Hot Bread Kitchen's training program work at bakeries all over New York City — "changing the face of a male-dominated industry," says Rodriguez. And, she adds, "We get excited sharing the traditional bread recipes from around the world that many New Yorkers haven't had the opportunity to taste."
Just last month, Hot Bread Kitchen earned a game-changing opportunity: a mentorship with JetBlue airlines.
Called "BlueBud," the JetBlue initiative is designed to foster relationships with environmentally and socially responsible food companies and start-ups.
The goal is for Hot Bread Kitchen to learn how to become a supplier for large commercial companies — like airlines. To accomplish that, JetBlue offers tours of catering centers, speaking and taste-testing opportunities so that JetBlue employees and customers can become familiar with Hot Bread Kitchen. And the bakery will have access to JetBlue so that they can learn everything they need to know about becoming a vendor.
Rodriguez told me that for a growing social enterprise, it's a tremendous opportunity. "We are hopeful that access to JetBlue's audience will allow more people to hear the stories of the women who we train and increase awareness of all of the incredible multiethnic bread offerings that New Yorkers might miss out on if organizations like ours didn't exist," she explains.
For Hot Bread Kitchen, the mentorship opportunity could open so many doors for women just like Altea.
I asked Rodriguez where she hopes her organization will be in five years.
"I see New York City as the proof of concept — we have, over the last five years, proven that there is a market for our mission-driven company," she explained. Now, she wants to replicate the model all across the country. "Our partnership with JetBlue is synonymous with our hope to travel beyond our New York roots to prove that our business can impact the livelihood and prosperity of women in many geographies."
I hope it does just that!