Wedding Cake with real flowers

Home Baking Laws…and my experiences with it

As a baker/blogger, I often asked about home baking laws. In fact, I am often asked the following questions:

  • Why don’t you bake full time?
  • Why don’t you open a bakery?
  • Why not just make a cake in my home kitchen and sell it from home?

While I love to bake and develop recipes, selling my baked items at this time is not an option. That is not for lack of trying, though!

You see, I work full time. Like most families, we have bills to pay and responsibilities to take care of so I have continued at my regular, full-time job. Baking full time while also commuting 2 hours a day to a full-time job would simply not be possible.

Dreaming of Spring – I recently made this cake as a gift for someone who needed some joy!

So why not just sell cakes and cookies part time, you ask? Well, now we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty! I actually intended to do this a few years ago after receiving constant requests for baked items. So I decided to look into the legalities of baking from my home kitchen.

Know Home Baking Laws!

Every state in the US has different home baking laws and I soon found that I live in one of the most restrictive states in the country. In Illinois, there are two different laws on file regarding selling food from your home.

One of those laws is the Cottage Food Law, which allows individuals to sell food, with certain restrictions, at Farmer’s Markets. The people who frequent Farmer’s Markets are normally there because they WANT homemade or homegrown items and vendors typically do pretty well at these open air, summertime markets.

The Cottage Food Law in Illinois has undergone numerous changes over the last few years. In fact, a recent change was due to the efforts of a 12 year old girl selling cupcakes from her home. With each change, the thought of selling at Farmer’s Markets became more inviting.

A few things about that, though. First, Farmer’s Markets occur in the summer months. In my area, they open at the end of May and close by Labor Day. How can I sell enough in those months to support myself and my business? I have one oven, a full time job, and hardly enough time to bake a few new recipes each week. Trying to bake enough in my ‘free time’ to run a booth each weekend would mean giving up the precious little sleep that I manage to squeeze in!

Another problem is that a lot of established businesses aka restaurants, cafes and bakeries, have booths at our local markets. They mass produce handmade breads, pastries, pies, cakes and other goodies. How can I compete with that? They have an established reputation, buy ingredients in bulk at a huge discount and bake all week long. I’ve met a few people that have tried to compete with these big bake stores and they couldn’t make a profit.

The other law regarding selling food from a home kitchen is the Home Kitchen Operation Law. This law allows you to sell foods, with certain restrictions, directly to a customer from your home. This allowed the types of baking sales that I had in mind.

Gettin’ into politics!

This is when making desserts forced me into politics. After familiarizing myself with the laws I found a stipulation stating that neither law was effective until the responsible county and/or city passed an ordinance.

So I called the County. They had no idea these laws existed and had no intention of passing an ordinance. If I wanted either option to be useful to me, I would have to get my city to pass the ordinance first.

Next I contacted the City. Oddly enough, this interested the City as they were planning to start a Farmer’s Market. They asked that I attend a City Council meeting with all of the details to formally request an ordinance. The Mayor and City Council expressed support for the idea and the months’ long process of answering questions, following up, and waiting began.

When it finally sounded like they were going to pass the ordinance, again they asked that I attend another board meeting. I then found out that they had only stated on the agenda that they were voting on the Cottage Food Law. Since the language used to draft the ordinance was confusing, the Home Kitchen Operation ordinance was not voted on. However, the Cottage Food Ordinance passed that night – 11 months after my first request.

A few days later, the County notified me that there were new rules in place in regards to Home Kitchen Operations. Their requirements were unattainable. They would require a separate kitchen, three sinks, a professional grease trap and a dedicated bathroom.

Wait, WHAT? The County wasn’t even aware that there was a law until I called. Now a year later, as I finally got one ordinance passed, all of these requirements were put in place?

At this point, I decided to never bake again.

Well, OK, that’s a bit extreme. I continue to bake and always will. But in order to start a business, I would need to rent or buy a commercial kitchen. I can’t operate a bakery of any kind while continuing to also work full time. I would need to replace my salary with baking before quitting my job. And a part of the ‘dream’ was to work from home and have some freedom in my schedule and life. I know plenty of people that have been given this opportunity and it is a path that I have unsuccessfully pursued for years.

Feeling completely defeated, I gave up the hope of a Home Bakery. (I should probably mention that I am not from Illinois. I would move in a heartbeat so maybe someday I will pursue a Home Bakery in another state.)

After all of this, I still think that baking at home and sharing your creations with people is a skill and gift that should not be given up lightly. If you want to bake from home, I highly encourage you to check into the state and county laws in your area and fight for it if you have to. Every state is different and most are not as ridiculously restrictive as Illinois.

Moving on…

So, I can’t sell you a cake or cater your event. BUT I will bake my heart out and occasionally you will see photos on my blog of special events where I bake huge spreads. The reason that I do these is that I do them for free, for family members and close friends. Sometimes I have to say no when I just can’t accommodate a request.

Recently, I had the honor to bake a wedding cake and cookie display for my niece and her new husband. The wedding took place in Austin, Texas and I baked for three days in my brother’s kitchen. Luckily, Illinois law can’t follow me to Texas so I broke no rules! Check out the photos below.

The Naked Cake trend makes decorating wedding cakes so easy, yet they still look elegant!

The cake was three tiers – the bottom layer was an Almond Sour Cream Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream and fresh strawberry compote; the middle layer was the Grooms request – my Oreo Bliss cake! The top layer and extra side cake was the Brides choice – Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Icing. This wedding was beautiful and the couple are the sweetest people you will ever meet. It was a total joy to do this for them!

For now, I am still baking, working on recipes and pursuing other opportunities in the baking world! I am also refocusing my dedication to this blog. There will be new recipes, videos, decorating tutorials and more. Stay tuned!

Using real flowers ensured that the cake matched the rest of the decor while also being easy to assemble.

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