Sandra Mathis prepares cupcakes at Hot Bread Kitchen’s kitchen incubator in East Harlem, New York, on July 18.


Photo:

Sangsuk Sylvia Kang for The Wall Street Journal

In a lower Manhattan classroom on a summer weeknight,

John Childress,

a veteran culinary and business professional, challenged a group of about 30 budding food entrepreneurs seeking his advice.

He pushed them to bring in extra help to avoid suffering from burnout. He told them to consider creative pricing strategies to boost revenue. And he encouraged them to explore new markets. “You can’t be afraid to go outside your neighborhood if that’s your best customer,” he said.

The entrepreneurs weren’t well-funded individuals starting up trendy restaurants or craft breweries in fashionable locales. Rather, they were people living in public housing hoping to better their situation through the business of food.

The class was part of the Food Business Pathways program, a 10-week-plus program that is open to the 400,000 residents of New York City Housing Authority’s 325 developments, along with 200,000 New Yorkers living in Section 8 housing administered by the agency.

Some of the program’s graduates will be featured at City Flavors, an event Monday, at Chelsea’s High Line park, that is being organized by the Food Working Group of the Fund for Public Housing, a nonprofit organization.

Launched in 2015, the program brings together key city agencies, including NYCHA and the NYC Department of Small Business Services, with additional support from nonprofit partners. The largest donor is Citi Community Development, a

Citigroup
,

Inc. affiliate, which has provided $500,000. The City of New York has provided $215,000 in public funding as well.

For

Raquel Whittaker,

a Food Business Pathways graduate who now runs Sweet Milk & Sugar Desserts, a baked-goods company, the main benefit is how the program “streamlined the process” of starting a business from scratch.

“It eliminated a lot of extra steps,” she said.

The program provides courses covering everything from government regulations to budget management, and it also helps attendees incorporate their business and pays the necessary fees involved. And while it doesn’t actually fund their businesses, it connects them with many lenders, particularly those who support small businesses.

Which isn’t to say all 200-plus graduates of the program to date have been successful in establishing a food business. About 30% don’t end up incorporating. And even those who do face challenges.

Sandra Mathis,

a graduate from last year who runs Grace Kelli Cupcakes, said the program has given her the confidence she can eventually succeed. Still, operating the baked-goods company named after her daughter is a challenge—revenue can range from $100 to $3,000 a month.

“I’m struggling, but I’m still out there pushing,” Ms. Mathis said.

Write to Charles Passy at cpassy@wsj.com

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