Hot Bread Kitchen is thrilled to welcome our new CEO, Leslie Abbey, a human services leader who has committed her career to supporting women and families. An accomplished nonprofit executive, entrepreneur, and attorney, Leslie brings to our team over 25 years of experience in social services, expertise in organizational management, and a tireless drive to improve outcomes through holistic, human-centered programming. Get to know Leslie and learn more about what brings her to Hot Bread Kitchen below. For more information, check out Leslie’s bio.
What brings you to Hot Bread Kitchen? What excites you most about our strategic plan to become 1,000 breadwinners strong by 2024?
I’ve always been motivated to work with women and children, and have found that the success of families lies very much in women’s empowerment. Hot Bread Kitchen’s core mission to break down the silos of access and opportunity for women, and to position members to seize opportunities for income generation, pulled me in initially, and our growth strategy to deepen our impact were what made me really excited to join the team.
I’m also energized by Hot Bread Kitchen’s focus on food and entrepreneurship as a sustainable path to stability. In my last few roles, I have seen the power that programming around food can have within organizations–how food can bring communities together, how it can tap into people’s creativity and how vital this industry is to New York City and our community’s COVID-19 recovery. Furthermore, I am a nonprofit entrepreneur, and I can’t wait to work with the entrepreneurs supported by Hot Bread Kitchen’s successful incubation program.
Tell us a little about your journey from working as an attorney and in the housing field, to joining Hot Bread Kitchen. What specific experiences have led you here?
Since I can remember, I’ve been driven to address inequality any way I can; for me, that has meant being an advocate in a wide variety of ways, and working directly with people most impacted by inequality, which is women and children—particularly women of color. There are many experiences that have led me here, but overall I have seen that there is a critical nexus between housing, workforce development, and the ability of people to thrive. What thrills me about Hot Bread Kitchen is that it sits squarely at this intersection.
I have seen that nonprofit organizations play a vital role in addressing complex community issues, and need to be able to respond to, and support, their clients holistically, as Hot Bread Kitchen does. Whether the front door is housing, social services, or workforce development, we need to be able to meet members where they are, address immediate needs, and then focus on long-term solutions. And once those first needs are met, there is no better way to sustain positive outcomes than to focus on income generation and economic mobility.
What does inclusive leadership mean to you? What does it look like?
Inclusive leadership means prioritizing communication, listening, and transparency. It means highly valuing diversity, and then actually putting meaning to those words—ensuring diversity is in the room. Leading as a group. Giving space to allow people to actually share their opinion, so the decision of the group is greater than any individual. Mentorship is also an incredibly important part of inclusive leadership, both among staff and members. That’s something I’m really looking forward to digging in on.
What is an experience (in your personal life or career) that has demonstrated for you the importance of economic opportunity and/or social justice work?
All of my work experiences to this point has demonstrated for me how economic opportunity, housing, and social justice overlap in myriad ways. Having a home fills a basic human need and is critical for the well-being of women and families. But economic opportunity and the ability to develop and utilize job skills are often precursors to finding a home, and then play an important role in maintaining stable housing. And finally, injustice and barriers to advancement permeate all of the systems addressing these issues. Economic opportunity and promoting social justice are key to achieving autonomy, stability and self-sufficiency.
Who inspires you?
Honestly, the staff at all of the organizations I’ve worked with and for. I really love working with people who work in the nonprofit sector. They want to make the world a better place; what better people are there to be around? I’m inspired by our members–folks who we’ve supported at Hot Bread Kitchen and clients at the organizations I’ve worked in too. They are striving for something and they are working so hard against many odds, and they inspire us to work that hard as well. They are the reason I come to work every day and do what I can to change those odds.
Where is your favorite place to eat in New York City? What do you like to eat there?
I’m a big breakfast person. I love going to Sullivan Street Bakery—I love all the egg dishes. And Lombardi’s is my #1 New York City pizza. But I grew up and still live in downtown Manhattan, so one of my favorite places for a dinner out will always be the Odeon.