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Goodwin Procter LLP, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP Assist Immigrant Food Preparers to Establish East Harlem Microbusinesses

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

  • Organization: The Legal Aid Society

The Legal Aid Society’s Community Development Project (“CDP”) works closely with Hot Bread Kitchen's ("HBK") Low Income Food Entrepreneur (“LIFE”) program, which exclusively serves low-income individuals. HBK is an East Harlem nonprofit whose mission is to improve the lives of foreign-born and low-income entrepreneurs by helping them grow successful food businesses. HBK does this through their culinary workforce and business incubation programs as well as by providing access to a licensed commercial kitchen at a sliding scale rate based on income. HBK provides entrepreneurs with individualized coaching to support culinary and professional development, including hands on assistance in developing and scaling up recipes (for example, hours of supervised production time) and in business education (for example, workshops in financial preparedness, accounting, marketing, planning, and packaging design).


Hot Bread Kitchen's new retail location inside Spanish Harlem's historic La Maequeta. Photo courtesy of www.hotbreadkitchen.org

In 2012, HBK received a one-year Citi Community Development grant to subsidize entrepreneurs who require a licensed commercial kitchen to start up their food businesses. Prior to using the kitchen, the entrepreneurs had to be incorporated and have the requisite insurance and licenses. Financial barriers, however, limited the ability of low-income entrepreneurs to have access to counsel to assist them with these legal requirements.

In order to make use of HBK’s important services, our Community Development Project worked reached out to Goodwin Procter LLP (“Goodwin”) and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP (“Simpson”) for pro bono assistance for seven street vendors and home cooks who wanted to create sustainable business but were economically challenged by the legal costs . The firms quickly agreed to represent these extremely low-income women entrepreneurs so that they could expeditiously incorporate and secure the applicable licenses. The entrepreneurs, reflective of their communities, consisted of first-time business owners and immigrants. After nine months, all of the businesses were counseled as to the most appropriate business entity and subsequently formed either a corporation or a limited liability company. But the assistance from both Simpson and Goodwin went beyond simply forming the entities.

Working in teams, the Simpson attorneys advised their clients on intellectual property issues, corporate governance, employment matters, and conducted research on New York State Worker’s Compensation Insurance requirements. Harlene Katzman, the firm’s Pro Bono Counsel, expeditiously engaged attorneys Megan Vasios and Allan Chorny; Jim Cross and Phong Quan; Charles Clinton and Doug Brown; and Matthew Levy and Jihyun Chung who provided comprehensive legal assistance to these community-based business owners.

Goodwin provided additional legal services that included help with a difficult tax issue and the filing of a Doing Business As (“DBA”) corporation, which enabled the entrepreneur to do business using a name other than her own personal name. Thomas Meriam, Chair of the firm’s New York Business Law Department and a member of the Community Development Project’s Advisory Board, headed the Goodwin legal team that included Amy Duvall and Samuel Gray.

In addition to providing individual representation, Legal Aid and Patterson Belknap Webb and Tyler LLP (“Patterson Belknap”) conducted a workshop on employment issues for the low-income start-up entrepreneurs in the HBK program. The workshop provided an overview of the fundamental employment issues including: the hiring process, the proper classification of employees and independent contractors, the basics of wage and hour issues, verifying employment eligibility, and other small business best practices and small business employment.

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