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Reflections on a Decade of Impact: New Leaders at Hot Bread Kitchen

There is a unique sense of pride I enjoy as travel around New York City tasting our impact on the foodscape: graduates, previously unemployed, working in the city’s kitchens; incubator products, previously enjoyed only by owners’ family, now on the best grocery store shelves; and global breads baked in East Harlem listed on the menus of some of my favorite shops and restaurants.

So, it is with a pride-filled heart that I let you know that I am transitioning out of the role of CEO at Hot Bread Kitchen. With the full support of our Board of Directors and incredible staff, I will pass the reins to Shaolee Sen, who has been Executive Director at Hot Bread for over a year. In that time, Shaolee has worked to skillfully scale our programs and build our teams. Her bio is impressive, with fifteen years of nonprofit management, including deep experience scaling small businesses across the U.S. She is a creative and steadfast leader who has proven she has the right skills and talent to continue to grow and innovate the organization.

I launched Hot Bread Kitchen ten years ago to help immigrant women leverage their talent in baking and cooking for good jobs in the culinary industry. I sought to build a new talent pipeline of women for management track jobs in the industry (and knew we’d eat better when we succeeded!). Bread unites people and families around the world, and so too could it serve as the vehicle for economic opportunity. We launched with a handful of women from around the world like Nancy, Marie, and Lutfunnessa—still working in our bakery today—who shared a passion for food. We hauled loads of corn and flour, and gave sweat and heart. We’ve grown over the decade, but still we maintain laser focus on wonderful products, quality jobs, and a commitment to growing businesses, including our own.

I hired our first graduates to staff our own fast-growing bakery. Once we had the right talent in place, we set our team loose on NYC’s hungry culinary industry, providing a pipeline of professionally trained chefs and bakers to the best employment partners. Then came HBK Incubates, more bread, more graduates, the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook, and, most recently, an apprenticeship program.

A decade later, the proof is in the bread-pudding: 100% of women who graduate are placed in good jobs and 84% of our graduates are still employed full time after a year. 330 women (and counting) have been trained at Hot Bread Kitchen, a source of immense pride for all of us. We have incubated 225 small food businesses, and we’ve generated hundreds of jobs in East Harlem where they are desperately needed. We have created a New York City institution: a hub of food manufacturing in Harlem.

In the past ten years, many things have changed, but our mission to create economic opportunity has not wavered. We have continued to innovate, re-invent, and stretch to serve the needs of our ever-growing numbers of clients and customers. It is a tough rhythm, but we’ve thrived because we have the most talented and committed leaders on our Board of Directors and staff.

And, while we have been growing, there has been a tectonic shift in the country that makes our mission even more critical. Our work to help women immigrants achieve economic stability in secure jobs has taken on a renewed urgency and fueled our rapid growth in the last two years.

With all of our accomplishments in mind and with so much work left to be done, why have I decided that it is time to move on?

Ultimately, I know that the organization will thrive beyond my leadership! We have a talented staff, an ambitious strategic plan and new leaders in place to build on our accomplishments. Shaolee has all of the right skills to carry our work forward. I will take the role of President, an advisor through this transition before I move to my next endeavor, and join you as a passionate and life-long advocate.

It has really taken an 8 million person village to get here—so I thank you most heartily for all of your support over the last decade, and for your continued commitment to support our critical work over the next.

With warmest regards,

PS: If our ten-year story has moved you, there are a few ways you can help us:

  1. Stay tuned for a birthday gala invitation this spring—sign up for our email newsletter here.
  2. Make a donation today in honor of ten years of baking breadwinners and changing lives.
  3. Sign up for a bread subscription. Now that I won’t be in the bakery every day, I’m signing up to get our delicious fresh bread delivered to my house. I encourage you to do the same!