Jessamyn Rodriguez formerly worked for the United Nations on immigration policy, but in 2007, the New Yorker began devoting her time and effort into creating a haven for women immigrants to perfect a craft, learn English and gain reasonable wages at Hot Bread Kitchen. According to Voice of America, Rodriguez began with two trainees in her home kitchen but now works with 13 trainees out of a commercial bakery.
Hot Bread Kitchen is located in East Harlem and serves up authentic, multi-ethnic breads that are inspired by the bakers’ countries of origin. The women’s homes include Bangladesh, Togo, Mexico and Morocco.
“I really had this realization that many women who immigrate to the United States have passion and skill tied up in the culinary arts but often end up in jobs with no professional trajectory,” Rodriguez told VOA News. “So it was really that kind realization and this idea that I could help women leverage skill and passion in the culinary arts for better job was kind of the kernel of why I got started with this.”
Women participating in the year-long apprenticeship are paid $9 an hour, which is slightly more than minimum wage. Once they have graduated, they move on to full-time positions at Hot Bread with higher wages. Immigrant minority women are the lowest paid individuals in the United States. The nonprofit bakery is currently sustained by donations, but Rodriguez has plans to be completely self-sufficient by 2014.
Hot Bread Kitchen offers English lessons twice a week, which are often linked to cooking, as well as health benefits and job stability. Rodriguez’s goal is to train the women that come through the bakery to have the skills and know-how to open up their own shops in New York.