Baking Breadwinners

Hot Bread Kitchen is changing lives through innovative culinary training that offers economic security to low-income women & their families.

Photo of Jessamyn Rodriguez

Written by


  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

New York City, NY 10029

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started

August 28, 2008

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)


  • over $5m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Twitter URL


Facebook URL

LinkedIn URL

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

The flash of inspiration for Hot Bread Kitchen came from a slip of the tongue. In 2000, Jessamyn Rodriguez shared with a friend that she had just interviewed with Women’s World Banking; he misheard “Women’s World Baking.” It conjured up a vision of an international women’s baking collective that stuck. Fast forward to 2008: After a career in social justice and public policy work, Jessamyn learned how to bake and launched Hot Bread from her home kitchen with two immigrant women from Mexico and a tortilla recipe. Today Hot Bread is truly the United Nations of Bread. We run a commercial bakery and are recognized nationally as best in class in addressing women’s economic vulnerability while matching talent with good jobs in the industry.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

The wage gap for women is a destabilizing force as many families rely on a women’s income and cannot survive if she does not earn a fair wage. Nearly 25% of NYC’s 4 million women are economically vulnerable. They are likely to live in poverty, have lower earnings and suffer long spells of unemployment. Our root cause approach to solve this issue is to provide women with barriers to employment paid on-the-job training and a good job at graduation.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We seek to address wage disparity by training women for culinary careers, thus creating economic opportunity while changing the face of a male dominated industry. To do this, we: we pay women for training, we do not require minimum educational requirements, we provide soft and hard skills training, and we facilitate job placement for 100% of graduates. To address the needs of the low-income and immigrant women we serve in a deeper way, in 2017 we initiated a 3-year growth strategy to scale our impact. To accomplish this, we are changing our innovative training program to a vocational apprenticeship model. We train women through 4 weeks of intensive fundamentals, and then place them in 3 months of paid apprenticeships where employment partners support training time and cost. As we shift to training women outside our bakery through apprenticeships, we will be able to quadruple the number of women we graduate to full jobs with benefits annually—from 25 to 100 by 2019. Leveraging the learnings from piloting the new model in 2017, we are currently transitioning to the apprenticeship model in 2018 with the anticipation to graduate 70 women by year-end and 100 women in 2019.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

At the time Amy enrolled into Bakers in Training, she was a resident in a substance abuse rehabilitation program. In addition to the pain of addiction, Amy had suffered homelessness and survived domestic violence. Given her lack of high school diploma/GED, and history of incarceration, Amy could not find work. Amy struggled while in training, finding the work hard and the pace challenging. Surely her history of trauma contributed to her struggles. However, with the professional training and support we provided and her determination, Amy graduated and secured a full-time job as a counterperson at Ess-a-Bagel. Four months into the job, she was awarded employee of the month. Twelve months in and she is still working, and loving every minute of it. Amy recently celebrated two years of sobriety. She is temporarily living in a shelter, saving money and working towards housing of her own.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

We work with more than 30 community nonprofit partners to recruit low-income, immigrant and U.S. born women facing a variety of difficult life circumstances, including housing instability, domestic violence and recent incarceration. We integrate financial education into our curriculum. For many women in the program, their apprenticeship is their first job and first paycheck, so improving financial understanding and health is critical and core to our work.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • ability
  • immigration status
  • work status
  • language
  • race/ethnicity
  • religion
  • gender
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

We uniquely addresses the learning and experiential deficits of the most vulnerable women entering the workforce. What sets our our approach apart is a focus exclusively on low-income and immigrant women, no eligibility/educational requirements to enroll, paid training, providing industry-specific hard/soft skills including English as a second language—all with a graduation placement rate of 100% and a one-year retention rate of 84%. Our deep industry knowledge and network of employment partners also sets us apart, which stems from the growth of our own commercial bread business.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Our program makes a meaningful impact on the lives and economic futures of the women we serve, their families and the communities where they live. Since 2008, we have trained 308 women from 43 countries and graduated 122 to new careers with access to benefits. In 2017, our average placement wage was $13.76/hour Graduates saw a 130% boost from pre-program to post program employment. At the community level, we help low-income and immigrant women meet the demand in the workforce for talent and contribute broadly to the economics of the neighborhoods where they live and work. We train women like Zuleika, a single mother from Dominican Republic with two boys, who secured a prep cook position at Google’s café. Zuleika is experiencing greater financial stability, no longer receives public assistance and is paying off her debts. Zuleika is proud to be contributing to her family and community.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

Our strategies to scale include: - Expand recruitment efforts across NYC (previously Upper Manhattan focused) to enroll women with significant employment barriers who will succeed in culinary careers - Enhance trainee assessment and retention services, including a case management approach to solve obstacles for women facing difficult life circumstances before they impact employment - Deepen partnerships with employers (broaden beyond baking) to support quadrupled graduation placements by 2019 -Improve financial literacy and health by integrating financial education into our curriculum

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Large Scale Partnerships

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Our growth strategy is being supported by a 3-year $5 million campaign (2017-2019) to support and sustain the organization as we scale. In addition to scaling our impact in NYC and positioning us for future replication, the campaign will allow us to build reserves and working capital. To date, we have raised $2.5 million from diverse donors. Also, our employment partners are, for the first time, providing support financially by investing at least 51% of apprentices’ wages with some at 100%.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Our CEO/Founder and Executive Director work closely with our Program Director who has 18 years of bakery/culinary training experience to oversee recruitment, training, job placements and partnerships. Other full-time staff include Program Coordinator responsible for recruitment, Employment Manager who secures/stewards partners for apprenticeships and job placements, Training Manager who teaches the fundamentals course and Retention Manager MSW helps women navigate workplace and life challenges.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • No, I do not identify with an underrepresented community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • BNY Mellon page or contact
  • Email
  • Word of mouth

Organization name

Hot Bread Kitchen

Program Design Clarity

Training starts with a 4-wk./90 hrs. fundamentals course (culinary, academic, professional skills) taught by Hot Bread at a commercial kitchen donated by the International Culinary Center. Women who complete the course are placed in 3-month, 3 shifts/wk. paid apprenticeships with our employment partners. Our team conducts weekly checking/site visits. We negotiate good wages/set schedules to place 100% of our graduates in good jobs with benefits.

Approach to financial wellbeing: does your project focus on creating financial wellbeing through innovating on any of the following?

  • education / literacy

Innovation type: Please select which of the following types of innovation best characterize your work

  • Process innovation (execution of a new or considerably improved production or delivery method)

Partnerships in detail: tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

Partnerships are critical to our program’s success and impact. We work with 30+ community partners to recruit women most in need of our program—low-income women facing difficult life circumstances (domestic violence, housing instability). Our 40 high-road employment partners within the culinary industry offer our graduates fair wages, access to benefits and opportunities for advancement. These partners also host apprentices, participate in the curriculum development and support training wages.

If you won the Unlocking ₵hange Challenge, how would you invest the prize money of $50,000?

We would invest the funds to build our capacity and scale our impact in NYC and position to replicate nationally. As we work towards scaling our impact, we will lower the cost of our outcomes, improve resource-efficiency, quadruple the number of graduates and create a robust, resilient organization.

Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions has the project received?

We have been recognized nationally as best in class for addressing women’s economic vulnerability and job creation. Our CEO has received much recognition with several distinguished awards including Clinton Global Citizen Award and Mayor Bloomberg’s Neighborhood Achievement Award. She sits on advisory boards for the NY Federal Reserve Bank and Mayor de Blasio’s Commission for Women Entrepreneurs.

Evaluation results

6 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 16.7%

Yes/maybe - 83.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 16.7%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 40%

Yes/maybe - 40%

Maybe - 20%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 60%

Clarity of Writing - 60%

Idea Originality - 80%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 20%

Impact measurement - 60%

Impact Potential - 60%

Financial Sustainability - 80%

Team - 80%

Partnerships - 40%

Potential to scale - 20%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 100%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 66.7%

Impact Potential - 66.7%

Financial Sustainability - 33.3%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 100%

Attachments (1)

Growth Strategy_Deck (PowerPoint Version)_Abbreviated.pptx

Hot Bread Kitchen's Organizational Growth Plan


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