By Caroline Benveniste
There is a new stand in Chelsea Market called Mini Melanie and when you find it you will be astounded at the elaborate display of intricate mini sweets. There are cakes and truffles and cookie cakes and mini cupcakes and cake pops. The offerings are colorful, fun, and delicious. Mini Melanie is the second business to have a residency at the Hot Bread Kitchen stand. Hot Bread Kitchen, which many will recognize from their ethnic breads available at Whole Foods, was started in 2008 by Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez as a way to train women for a culinary career. The initial focus was bread, which is baked in a shared commercial kitchen space A second initiative, HBK Incubates, started in 2015 and aims to help address the challenges of entrepreneurs in the food space, particularly women and minorities. The food businesses in this program also use the shared commercial kitchen space, and they receive help getting connected to consumers and buyers as well as some business training. When the program started there were 38 businesses participating, and now there are 85-95.
Recently, HBK Incubates entered into a new partnership with Chelsea Market. HBK controls one stand in the market, and offers it for residencies of 5-6 months to food businesses who have graduated from the HBK Incubates program and are ready to take the next step. Jamestown Properties, which still manages Chelsea Market even after the sale of the building to Google in 2018, advises HBK on which businesses would be a good match for Chelsea Market, and representatives from Jamestown meet with the businesses that were selected to advise them and evaluate their progress.
Kobla Asamoah, Program Director for HBK Incubates explained to me that Mini Melanie had finished the HBK Incubates program about a year ago and had moved into their own space. They had a thriving catering business, mostly with corporate clients, but they were looking to engage with end-users directly in a retail setting, making them an ideal choice for the Chelsea Market residency.
Mini Melanie was started by sisters Melanie and Diana Moss in 2015. Before founding Mini Melanie, Melanie worked at Babbo and was then the Head Baker and Pastry Sous Chef at the illustrious Blue Hill at Stone Barns. When Instagram was just becoming popular, Melanie realized that her eye-catching desserts were well suited to the platform. Diana was in the hospitality business and had a background in start-ups and customer service, which made her a perfect partner to tackle the business side of their venture. Melanie started doing recipe testing in her apartment and eventually joined the HBK Incubates program. Since the business was doing so well, after a year Melanie and Diana procured their own space in a commissary kitchen in Williamsburg, located in the old Pfizer building.
During their Chelsea Market residency, Melanie continues to cook in the Williamsburg kitchen, while Diana works behind the counter at Chelsea Market. Most of the pastries are delivered from Brooklyn, but there is a small oven at the market where the cookie cakes are baked, causing a delicious smell to waft over the area. (The cookie cakes are cookie dough baked in a pan. The ones at the market are 4 inches in diameter and quite deep, but 12-inch cookie cakes are also available by special order.) Once they emerge from the oven they are drizzled with sauce, and if you order one you can request your own custom topping.
The day I stopped by, both Diana and Melanie were there. Melanie had just come from the Brooklyn kitchen, and was setting up for a cookie decorating class later that evening. Diana took me through the different offerings: the mini cakes are 3-inch in diameter and have three layers, and come in flavors like chocolate chip salted caramel and lemon berry. The buttercream is made the classic way, with an Italian meringue to which lots of butter is added. The jewel truffles are eye-catching with their colorful faceted outer shell. Unlike most truffles, these are filled with cake, not ganache. There are also vegan and gluten free options, which are very popular for those looking to avoid eggs, dairy and wheat. The funfetti cake pops were sold out, but I had a large choice of truffles, so I picked a Zoe and a Grace (all have girls’ names), and I also got a funfetti mini-cake. If you missed the opportunity to procure these pastries for the holidays, you’ll have a chance to get your Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day treats here, as Mini Melanie will be around through May.
December was a quiet month with only two openings and no closings. Some new West Village restaurants did very well on end-of-the-year lists with Llama-San mentioned everywhere, and Nami Nori and The Riddler also showing up.