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Burger Dream Becomes Reality Thanks to Business Program for NYCHA Residents

By Dartunorro Clark | October 13, 2016 11:52am
 Jeanette Toomer working in East Harlem's Hot Bread Kitchen on her burger recipes.
Jeanette Toomer working in East Harlem's Hot Bread Kitchen on her burger recipes.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

HARLEM — Jeanette Toomer made burgers for fun until she realized it was her calling.

Toomer and some of her friends would sell her creations at bars and concerts in the city at a pop-up stand. But she didn’t consider it a job.

“I just wanted me and my friends to go to Coachella for free,” she said.

But she was soon convinced to turn that hobby into a business.

“I was working from home, so that was a huge challenge,” she said. “I was balancing my professional life with my dream of being an entrepreneur.

“Something had to go, so I chose myself."

Toomer joined a city program that helps residents living in New York City Housing Authority developments or recipients of Section 8 housing vouchers to jumpstart their business ideas.

Now she's selling burgers inspired by Caribbean and Asian cultures, as well as traditional soul food. Her company is called "Bad Gurl Burgers."

The program, Food Business Pathways, is a partnership between NYCHA, the city’s Small Business Services, East Harlem’s Hot Bread Kitchen and several other city agencies.

The program gives some of its graduates free space at the Hot Bread Kitchen on East 112th Street and Park Avenue to jumpstart the first year of their business after going through a 10-week training program.

Through the East Harlem incubator, the program also cuts through some of the obstacles by giving people like Toomer access to modern cooking facilities and training to get food-handling certificates and other permits.

Now Toomer said she's is fleshing out the menu for her pop-up burger stand and catering company and working on branding.

“I really wanted to start my own business and then learned it could be worthwhile,” she said.

The program has had 140 graduates since the program launched in 2014. In 2015, about 90 percent of the 80 graduates that year went on to own and operate their own business, program officials said.