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Columbia Spectator Staff

Harlem locals gathered at La Marqueta in East Harlem Monday night with hopes of becoming the next top food entrepreneurs. Hot Bread Incubates is a program that intends to help low-income women and minorities develop successful food businesses and learn to be business owners. Potential applicants asked questions and solicited help on their applications from program organizers. The first round of applications is due Nov. 30. Monday's information session was held in the same rooms that will become the program's headquarters in January 2011, complete with kitchen and office space. The location was also significant considering that in the 1950s and 1960s, La Marqueta was a bustling marketplace with more than 500 vendors. "We've had a lot of questions about what's in the space and what it looks like, and even though it's obviously still under construction, the hope was to get people here to see it," said Gussie Binns-Berkey, an intern at Hot Bread Kitchen who was on hand to provide information to guests. "We're hoping that people who are potential applicants would be here to help them go through any part of the application they might have been having a hard time with." While the rooms were crowded with Harlem residents, some had ventured in from other neighborhoods. Many were seeking help with their applications to the program. One applicant, Frances Hodges, said she was interested in launching her own catering or cupcake business. She has been unemployed for a year after being laid off from a financial consulting job. With her prospective business, she hopes to create income as well as accomplish a long-time dream. "I have always wanted to start a business of my own," Hodges said, but she acknowledged, "I'm going to be completely just starting from scratch." Hodges also expressed appreciation for the location of the commercial kitchen space in the Upper Manhattan area, which fellow applicant Diana Delatorre noted as an advantage. "There is a dearth of commercial kitchen spaces in the city," Delatorre commented. Delatorre, who lives a few blocks away from La Marqueta, has already begun baking and marketing for her business, which she calls The Naughty Housewife. She plans to donate a percentage of her profits to help children with special needs—a cause of particular interest for her because her son has special needs. Nafissatou Camara and her daughter, Bintou Camara, have another business venture with family ties: They make all-natural hot pepper sauce from a special Senegalese family recipe. Although they already sell their sauce at various markets and around their neighborhood on 151st Street, Nafissatou Camara said, "We would like to take it to the next level and learn a lot more about business, and try to get it into the stores." Bintou Camara added, "People to help you for the business plan, explain to us what's going to happen, what you need and all that to me is the greatest part of this association." Rafael Merino, director of marketing and media development for the East Harlem Business Capital Corporation, said that HBK Incubates would bring back the historic energy of La Marqueta and create excitement about the East Harlem area. "The people who will be working here will be familiarizing themselves with the neighborhood. The other thing that we're really looking forward to is all the people that will be attracted to what's going on here also from outside the neighborhood—they'll be coming here to see what's going on," Merino said. "In many ways, this is also kind of like the rebirth of La Marqueta, which has a very long history, and little by little, we're looking to bring back what La Marqueta used to be." "We have this fantastic bread-baking, cooking operation going on here that a lot of people are going to have access to on a revolving basis," he said. "That's something ... that they didn't have before and haven't had for quite a long time."

hot bread incubates east harlem