WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – Jessamyn Rodriguez wanted to create a job where she could combine her passions. And though not many realized that baking and social justice could go hand in hand, the result is New York-based Hot Bread Kitchen, where Rodriguez does just that.
Rodriguez started the business in 2007. Her goal was to increase economic security for foreign-born and low-income men and women by opening access to a specialty food industry. The business trains employees and assists them with business incubation.
Before she started the business Hot Bread Kitchen, Rodriguez spent 10 years in government and the United Nations, focusing on human rights, education and immigration issues.
“The idea for Hot Bread Kitchen came about because I was dedicated to working on immigrant rights,’’ Rodriguez said. “It melded my passion for good food with helping low income women get ahead. It just really resonated with me. I have succeeded in creating my dream job.”
In Rodriguez’s business, women take English classes, learn management skills and the math necessary to become leaders in the culinary industry. Rodriguez is helping to change the face of the industry, where only 500 of the 6,000 bakers in New York City are minority women.
“I had the idea for about 10 years before I started it,’’ said Rodriguez, who is the niece of Houlihan Lawrence Realtor Barbara Ward. “It just felt like the right moment in my professional career to do it. I was ready for something new and different. I jumped in with both feet.”
Since starting the business, Hot Bread Kitchens and Rodriguez have won numerous awards. Last August, she was honored by President Clinton with the Global Citizen Award. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg was among the other six honorees.
In November, Hot Bread Kitchen wrapped up its first Women Bake Bread Scholarship campaign to help create the next generation of female leaders in the baking industry. In two months, Hot Bread Kitchen raised over $47,000 to create the scholarship program.
Rodriguez said enjoying the products is one reward of the job, and so is seeing immigrant women grow in their careers. “It’s rewarding to see them grow and feel empowered,’’ she said. "Some of them have never worked outside the home. To see them improve their business and baking skills and go on to become a manager, it’s very satisfying.”
Before she started Hot Bread Kitchens, Rodriguez said she’d be sitting at meetings at the United Nations and think about what she was going to do for dinner that night.
“I was politically passionate and that motivated me professionally,’’ she said. “Creating this business has allowed me to think about what I’m having for dinner and helping people at the same time. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Westchester shoppers can purchase products made by Hot Bread Kitchen at Whole Foods stores throughout the county.