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Small business diaries // Starting a cottage home food business

// starting a cottage home food business
First, I just have to say thank you all again for your support. This is such an amazing/exciting/terrifying time in our lives and it really does mean so much to have you all cheering us on. It gives us the strength we need on those nights when we’re still baking at four in the morning and those mornings when we just don’t want to get out of bed, and it’s huge. So thank you so, so much. You might not know it, but you really are an incredibly important part of our little lives.

But before I get too mushy (more than I already have) let’s get down to business. Since I haven’t been able to share our journey with you over these past two years, we have a whole lot of catching up to do! Starting with this very important piece. Dough Uprising started with a dream (literally, but that’s a story for another day) but I’m not sure if that dream would have become a reality without the cottage home food industry. It certainly wouldn’t have helped our cause.

In the beginning, we had a name and an idea, but no clue how to put it all into action. We didn’t have much money, so we knew that we needed to start small. We thought of selling at farmer’s markets, and thought that maybe we could license our own kitchen with a few adjustments, but not so much.

In Maryland it’s very tough to have a home kitchen licensed, since it has to be removed from the rest of the house. Basements and guest houses are awesome, but for those of us who live in basement-less townhomes the options are few. Thank goodness for this one little exception.

In ours and in many other states across the country, cottage food laws exist that allow small food businesses to work out of their home kitchen under strict regulations. Prior to getting started with Dough Uprising, we’d never heard of these laws, but learning about them changed our lives.

Different states have different rules and unfortunately, at this time, some places still don’t have these laws at all (you can look up your state’s specifics here), but if you’re thinking about starting your own cottage home food business, these are a few of the more general restrictions you’ll find…

1 // Restrictions that allow production of only “non-potentially hazardous” foods. This keeps everything good and safe, and is understandably very important. “Non-potentially hazardous” means breads and baked goods that don’t need to be refrigerated, but unfortunately no creams, meats, or custards. This is a shame because we have some great custard recipes, but eventually we plan to rent space in a commercial kitchen and expand not only to custards, but to savory pies and quiches as well. We’re thankful to have the chance to get started even if our products are a little limited at first.

2 // Location restrictions. Maryland allows sales only at farmer’s markets. Other states might also allow sales at food stands, events, and even retail locations and restaurants. If we lived just next door in Pennsylvania we’d have a lot more options for sales.

3 // Registration, licensing, and permits. Whereas they have some pretty tight laws in the other two arenas, Maryland is lax on this one. They don’t require any licensing or permit, so it’s very easy to get started. You will need a permit if you’d like to provide samples or slices of your food, however. Since samples are an important part of any food business, this is something we’ve made sure we have.

4 // Limits on total sales. Since these laws are meant to help get small businesses off the ground, some states put limits on the amount of income you can earn as a cottage home business. Maryland’s, for example, is $25,000.

5 // Labeling requirements. Most states require cottage food businesses to provide certain specific information on their labels. This could include a list of ingredients, net weight, the name and address of the business, and a disclosure letting consumers know that the product was manufactured in a home kitchen.

Once we realized we wouldn’t be able to license our own kitchen and there was no way we’d be able to afford to buy or rent one of our own, we thought the requirements above looked pretty darn reasonable. It was the opportunity we needed to get our business off the ground, and learning all about it was the first step that led us to the path we’re on today. Of course we still took it slow and worked on branding and recipe development for a very long time before taking the leap we did last week, but without the ability to start small we’d still be doodling tiny pies on our notebooks, dreaming of somedays to come instead of making it happen today.

If you’re thinking about this yourself, I hope this helps, but if you have questions please feel free to email me — I’m happy to help any way that I can. And you can find more great information on starting a cottage home food business here and here. Of course every state is different, but hey who knows — you might live in one with even better cottage food laws than ours!

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