Jessamyn Rodriguez conceived of her Harlem bakery, Hot Bread Kitchen, in a rather unconventional way. She was in her twenties, at a dinner party, when she told a friend that she had been turned down by the global non-profit organization Women’s World Banking. But her friend misheard the name as “Women’s World Baking,” and suddenly Rodriguez’s head was swimming. She imagined women from all different backgrounds coming together to commercialize and professionalize their traditional baking knowledge. Now, in addition to producing some of the city’s best bread, HBK aims to improve the economic conditions faced by immigrant women by providing them with jobs, a skill set, and free English courses

After receiving a Master Baker certificate from the New School University and doing a baking internship at Daniel, Rodriguez took a leap in 2007 and started the Hot Bread Kitchen operation—first making tortillas, then working with her bakers to develop recipes for Moroccan m’smen flatbread, Persian qandi, and Polish bialys.

Our approach is to let the bread speak for itself.

Rodriguez knew that by harnessing the talent and knowledge of these immigrant women, she could develop a catalog of authentic breads unlike any New York had seen under one bakery roof. “It’s been amazing to see how our team of women, and also our line of breads, has flourished over the past few years,” says Rodriguez. In turn, HBK employees walk away (if they choose to) as well-trained, professional bakers.

“Our approach is to let the bread speak for itself. We want to educate people about the stories behind the bread and the contributions that immigrant women, and immigrant communities in general, make to our culinary scene here in New York City,” says Robin Burger, business developer at HBK.

Recently, we stopped by the bakery’s East Harlem workshop to chat up Rodriguez and baker Adrianna Campbell. Here, they share the stories behind Hot Bread Kitchen most intriguing international breads, from from Moroccan m’smen, to German grindstone rye.