Hot bread cookingfounded in New York in 2008 by baker Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez, has been working for more than a decade provide training and placement for women in the restaurant industry. It is stepping up its services just as a very different restaurant industry emerges from the COVID-19 crisis.

Catering to reality

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, the restaurant industry is very different from what it was before the lockdown. Long road to a accountthe people running one of the hardest-hit industries will have to figure out what its future will look like.

Before the pandemic, food service workers were already facing a multitude of challenges, including long hours, low wages, mistreatment and a culture that discourages workers, especially those who feel they have nowhere to go. But it’s a huge employer. According to National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry achieved sales of $799 billion in 2021, which, although down from pre-pandemic levels, is still significant. The trade group also reports that 14.5 million people are employed in the industry, a million less than pre-pandemic levels.

There are a myriad of reasons why so many people have quit their jobs in the restaurant industry, such as the permanent closure of restaurants (90,000, according to the National Restaurant Association). But it remains an attractive option, despite the challenges, due to the low barrier to entry. At first glance, it offers a career ladder. Some workers enter the industry because of their passion for food. But in reality, it is known as a meat grinder for those at the bottom of the industry hierarchy.

Women, in particular, have traditionally been relegated to more low-paying jobs and have faced sexual harassment and a lack of opportunities for advancement. According to an analysis of the Brookings Institute, before the pandemic, nearly half of all working women were in low-paying jobs with a median income of $10.93 per hour. The proportion of women in lower paid jobs was higher among women of color. The National Restaurant Association has reported that although women occupy the majority of jobs in cateringthey hold significantly fewer leadership positions.

Hot Bread Kitchen seeks transformational change in the restaurant industry

Rodriguez had seen firsthand the inequalities women face in the baking industry. She wanted to center women in the industry: to begin with, basic skills training eventually included a business incubator focused on small food businesses run by women of color and a comprehensive culinary curriculum.

The program has been so successful that in February 2022, Hot bread cooking moved into a former Food Network space in Chelsea Market in New York’s Meatpacking District. Google, one of the organization’s main partners, provided the space.

Seeing the impact of the pandemic on its “breadwinners,” as program participants are called, Hot Bread Kitchen changed tack. “We’re really focused on economic mobility so that more and more women are using the food industry holistically,” Leslie Abbey, CEO of Hot Bread Kitchen, told TriplePundit. With this in mind, in addition to increasing the number of their cohorts, the organization will open outposts in New York’s five boroughs to meet women where they live.

Looking at the restaurant industry beyond the pandemic

They have redesigned their training during the pandemic. “We had to take a break from in-person culinary training,” Hot Bread Kitchen COO Kristine Borok told TriplePundit. “We started thinking about other training programs and what we could do virtually. We piloted a more in-depth digital skills program and thought about the basic elements and skills a woman needs to maintain her economic mobility. »

To that end, Hot Bread Kitchen has added facilities management training and bridging training, which includes all the skills needed to succeed in the industry: English as a Second Language classes (in partnership with La Guardia Community College), digital skills training and financial literacy training.

The Hot Bread Kitchen team has also developed a strategic plan to support small businesses, especially micro businesses run by women during the pandemic, with e-commerce training plans. The organization continued to expand its list of partners. Google, one of its main employer partners, has helped other partners join the effort.

For their part, both Abbey and Borok stressed that they carefully screen their employer partners to ensure their breadwinners receive quality jobs with a career path. They are also aware that women, especially women of color and immigrants, have a history of abuse from industry. “We can’t keep putting women in jobs knowing there’s another side to this industry,” Borok told TriplePundit. “It’s a system-wide approach. Employers are now willing to have a conversation they couldn’t have had five years ago. It’s about high-quality work, a schedule you can count on, a future for growth, a relationship with your manager, and a non-toxic environment.


Cooking hot bread has launched women into high-quality jobs in the food industry by not only providing them with training, but also by boosting their confidence. The team that runs Hot Bread Kitchen has deliberately chosen to call its graduates “breadwinners” to reflect not only the positions of women in the workforce, but also in the community. “Supporting women in this area,” Abbey said, “is a triangle with three sides: social support, economic mobility and housing. You can’t have one without the other. Working in a multifaceted way around economic mobility, creating businesses, acquiring skills, improving jobs for the women who take them.

Going back to the origins of the organization, Borok noted that when Rodriguez founded it, she wanted to center women and baking. “The bread and the food created a mark of warmth,” she said. As the latest graduates of the Hot Bread Kitchen cohort this spring, they represent women armed with the skills, confidence and ideas to help transform the restaurant industry into a place where they can not only survive, but also thrive. .

Image credit: Jeff Siepman via Unsplash