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Hot Bread Kitchen Opens Harlem Store

By Jeff Mays | July 24, 2012 7:45am

HARLEM — After 19 months, the knocking at the doors, windows and gates of the Hot Bread Kitchen Incubator at La Marqueta in East Harlem became too much for Jessymn W. Rodriguez to ignore.

The Incubator helps immigrants, women and Upper Manhattan entrepreneurs launch their food-based businesses.

But people in the area wanted to taste the fresh bread, Brazilian pastries, and Ethiopian food being produced in the space at East 112th Street and Park Avenue.

"They just kept knocking on the front door, the back door, the gate wanting to buy the products," said Rodriguez, the kitchen's executive director.

"It showed me there is a real demand."

To meet it, Hot Bread Kitchen opened its first retail location Monday, Hot Bread Almacen at La Marqueta, with funding from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone.

Almacen means general store in Spanish. The new shop will carry Hot Bread Kitchen's full line of bread and feature a daily lunch special from culinary businesses at HBK Incubates as part of the marketplace on Park Avenue under the Metro-North tracks, near East 115th Street.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the development has the potential to further change the neighborhood for the better and make it a "bona fide New York City culinary destination."

Seth Pinsky, president of the city's Economic Development Corporation, said what's happening at La Marqueta is spreading all around the city. There are 1,000 food manufacturing businesses across the city that employ 14,000 people, with approximately 70 percent of those businesses owned by people who are foreign-born, he said.

The number of food manufacturing business has increased five percent over the last year, added Pinsky.

"There have been challenges at La Marqueta over the years," Pinsky said when asked about the future of the historic market that started in the 1950s and runs up Park Avenue from East 111th to East 119th streets.

"What we are focusing on now is the right mix of retail and food manufacturing."

Rodriguez said HBK Incubates has helped to start 35 businesses and provided 7,000 hours of on-the-job training and 200 hours of English and baking classes. The businesses distribute to 40 grocery stores, 18 restaurants and 12 farmers markets.

"Until today, this cozy family didn't have a front door for the store," said Rodriguez. Almacen's new storefront is just three blocks from the workspace of Hot Bread Kitchen.

New items that will be available at Hot Bread Almacen include the Bialy al Barrio, an egg, cheese and hot-sauce sandwich made using Hot Bread Kitchen's bialy, Hella Bitter's cocktail bitters, cake on a stick from New York Cake Pops, and brigadeiro — a Brazilian sweet made of chocolate, condensed milk and butter made by My Sweet Brigadeiro.

Hot Bread Almacen was designed by Asher Israelow and features a display case that looks like an island, designed to create a more communal shopping experience.

"We have a resource investing in our local entrepreneurs," said East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Christina Bhan, who owns My Sweet Brigadeiro with Paula Barbosa, said they moved their operation from Lower Manhattan to HBK Incubates and have benefited from both business and culinary mentors.

"They were able to help us go from making a box of 30 to 3,000," said Bhan who described to Quinn how the demand for their sweets forced them to take large orders before they even had credit card processing set up.

All of that has changed.

"Nothing scares us anymore because we have the support," said Bhan. "The sky's the limit."

Rodriguez said the new space will have tables and chairs for 15 people. She's optimistic about the potential.

"It's going to be a slow build," she said.

"But my philosophy is, if you build it, they will come."