Unlike most business enterprises, a food business can scale in multiple ways. You can start small and, based on your sales, decide to branch out. More than one legendary eatery or supermarket item we can’t help but add to our cart started out as an idea that someone took to the next level.

Or you can stay small, working out of your permitted home kitchen, cranking out delicacies and delectables your customers are clamoring for, making some money on the side as you pursue your passion.

Introduction: Are You Ready?

You don’t need to set the world on fire with a fancy new restaurant or ramp up production at a contract baker to get your product to market. There are many ways to turn your passion for cooking and baking into a revenue stream, whether you want to make some money on the side or become the next Mrs. Fields or Col. Sanders.

You just never know. Today, Marie’s Dressings can be found in grocery stores across the U.S. But it got its humble start as a dressing at Marie’s Café, a little restaurant in Seattle’s Greenwood District. One day, owner Marie Nordquist’s chef, Harold Smith, pulled her aside to sample a new bleu cheese dressing he was working on. There was so much customer demand that she ended up bottling it and became quite wealthy in the process.

Microbiologist Curt Jones had an epiphany while he was flash-freezing animal food in 1987. “What if I used the same process on ice cream?” The result? Dippin’ Dots the byproduct of a scientist’s curiosity and the magic of cryogenic encapsulation.

You don’t need a lab to bring your own idea to market. In fact, you don’t even need a commercial kitchen for many products. Best of all, you can start small, perfect your products and find your audience, Over time, you can expand, whether that means keeping things small, moving into a food truck or realize your lifelong dream of owning a restaurant.

Starting small…

A natural starting point for a food business is your home kitchen. Not too long ago, running a food business out of your kitchen was nearly impossible. Instead, you had to rent a commercial kitchen space to do your food prep.

But no more. Washington State’s Cottage Food Act allows you to sell certain food products using your own kitchen, including baked goods, candies, jams, jellies, fruit butters, dry spice blends, bread mixes, cereals, dry tea blends and even coffee beans. These are considered low-risk items since they don’t require special handling or storage such as meat, shellfish and raw food items.

The state legislature passed the act so that residents could contribute to their local economies through the sale of these types of products. Since its passage, the Cottage Food Act has given rise to hundreds of small food businesses across the state. Walk through any farmer’s market or street fair, and you can easily see its impact on the local economy.

More importantly, the act standardized the regulation and food safety protocols for goods prepared at home. Food sellers no longer had to work around the soft edges of the laws as they sold products. The Cottage Food Act simplified regulation and increased the public’s trust in the purchase and use of these products. There are clear guidelines in place for preparation, packaging, labeling and the listing of ingredients to build public trust.

It also opened the door to home cooks and bakers who wanted to get their foot in the door with the lucrative gourmet food industry. From a financial and operational standpoint, the barriers to entry were reduced, and home kitchen operations could rapidly prototype new products, make improvements and sell to an ever-widening customer base.

As you grow your business, other needs will come into play, partly because the Cottage Food Act isn’t meant to be a be-all, do-all. As you become more popular, you may need to consider other avenues to fuel growth, such as a commercial kitchen, a food processing license (if you want to sell wholesale or online), or additional equipment and staff to keep up with all the orders.

But we’ll get to all that in due time. Ordinarily, we’d jump right into the basics of developing a business plan, marketing and other things you know to create a demand, sell goods and keep proper records. But a Cottage Food enterprise may be just the start of your plans to take over the food business. If so, feel free to jump to other steps along the way as you progress from a home-based operation to any number of growth strategies, including a food booth, food truck and even something a little more lasting.

Additional food for thought!

This is meant to serve as a general guide. Nothing in this academy is intended to be considered business advice. Ultimately, Commerce and the state cannot be responsible for the success (or failure) of any business. Every business and business situation is different, and it’s not possible to provide you with guidelines on every scenario or business practice.

Whenever possible, seek the advice of a business professional such as those at your local Small Business Development Center, SCORE office, or, in the case of the Cottage Foods program, the Washington State Department of Agriculture.



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