The Dog Ate My Figurine

A question I get asked fairly often is, “Do I need a registered kitchen to run my cake business?”

Depending on where you are in the world, your mileage may vary a bit, but the short answer is: YES. If you’re exchanging money for goods, you must be operating from registered premises. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

When I started out running a cake business (that I didn’t know I was running), I did everything in my home kitchen. Baking, mixing, making icing, decorating, making itty bitty decorative things, cutting out edible images, filling piping bags, packaging biscuits. Absolutely everything happened from my home kitchen. (Okay, that’s a lie. I generally made itty bitty decorative things while sitting in front of the TV, which was in the loungeroom.) At that time we didn’t have a dog*, none of us smoked**, and our toddlers were small enough that I could put them in a playroom and they wouldn’t get their grubby little hands into the boxes of sprinkles. I figured with all of that, I was pretty much good to go. It didn’t even really occur to me at that time that I needed to do anything special about the kitchen itself. I made cake, I washed my hands after I peed, that was enough, right?

WRONG. Not only wrong to be doing that, but potentially a very expensive mistake to make.  I eventually learned that I needed to be operating from a registered kitchen and that I needed to have a food handler’s certificate. I also learned that while it is technically possible to register a home kitchen (and many a baker has done so), the local council you are in holds all the cards. I’ve had people tell me that the inspector came in, wandered around a bit, said, ‘Yep, that’s fine,” and handed them the permit to sign. I’ve had other people tell me they had 3 inspections, spend $10,000 installing extra sinks, taps and fridges only to be told there was no way in hell they would be granted a permit (and even hell needed an extra hand washing sink before that would get approved.) Registering a home kitchen is a great idea but not always easy to do.

Registering a kitchen (home or otherwise) can be expensive and time consuming. Being sued by a client because they got sick from your cake (or just didn’t like it) can be even more expensive and time consuming – and you don’t want to know what happens if they sue you and it comes to light that you were operating illegally. Putting your business “out there” in the wide world (also known as facebook) while operating from an unregistered premises – now that’s just plain stupid. You might as well hold up a sign which says, “I’m selling cakes from an illegal kitchen! Come! Order cake so I can pay my legal fees!”

It can be a pretty big stumbling block when you don’t know if the business is going to take off, you don’t have regular orders, you have less than zero money to start this business off with, and you’re still at the stage of making $50 cash-only cakes for friends. Doing everything on your kitchen table is easy, convenient, and (seems) inexpensive. It makes perfect sense for most cake companies to start out that way and it’s because of the nature of them (you started with making your son’s cake…) that it’s where they mostly begin. It also makes sense to keep your overheads as low as is possible, but for cake companies who intend on becoming something more than a hobby, this is just not a tenable situation.

So what do you do when you’re broke but you need a registered kitchen in order to take it to the next level, and your local Council are being pains in the proverbial about it?

One word: Research. A LOT of research.

How to find registered kitchen options:

  • Make the call to your local council. You just might get lucky and it’s easier than you think.
  • Ask you council if  THEY know of any kitchens for hire in their municipality
  • Call local churches or other religious organisations with kitchens in their hall
  • Call local sporting clubs who may have their own space at local sport arenas
  • Offer to share kitchen space with friends who also have start-up food businesses (and this might be their home kitchen if they have a nicer Council than you do)
  • Find out about incubator kitchens or rent-by-the-hour kitchens
  • Think about some kitchens which may not used at night (retirement homes, clubs)
  • Simply googling “commercial kitchen for rent” and see what comes up
  • Call local schools who do not use their cafeteria kitchens on weekends
  • Share kitchen space with food businesses that does not operate 24/7
  • Get the word out there. Facebook, tweet, ask friends – often it’s not what you know, it’s who you know!
  • Try local culinary schools, they might have teaching kitchens available or know someone with a kitchen
  • Go around to local cafes and restaurants (a lot of CBD places only operate a breakfast and lunch service)
  • Catering companies often have available kitchen time as they don’t operate 24/7

What not to do when looking for a registered kitchen:

  • Give up. This process might take a hell of a lot longer than you think and it can be immensely frustrating.

The point is, there ARE kitchens out there which will keep you and your customers safe and not cost you the earth. Yes, it’s less convenient than doing it from home, but if you’re serious about this business, there is just no excuse for not finding yourself proper premises to work from. Your first kitchen won’t be perfect. It won’t have all the bells and whistles. It might still require you to pack up your stuff in the car every time you need to bake, but it’s worth doing if your business is worth doing in the first place.

Yes, I’m here admitting that I too operated illegally for a very short while. Once I had clients who were not in my immediate circle of friends, or friends of my immediate circle, I found a kitchen. Why? Because it was an investment I had to make if I was ever going to get the business going in any real sense (and my Council were shmucks.)

I know you’re reading this thinking, “Yeah right, nobody ever checks on these things, I’m sure I’ll be fine, everybody does it, it’s just cake and I always wash my hands.”

Tell me this: after all you’ve invested so far in time, money, emotional energy…  is getting caught really worth it?

In the comments, tell me – what has been your experience with sourcing a commercial kitchen?

*We have a dog now. He’s fabulous, but given half a chance he’d eat cake bits. I know because I’ve seen him do it. He once ate a red sugar rose that I brought home for one of  my daughters. It eventually required that we have TWO ROOMS of carpet replaced. Expensive lesson, that.

** We still don’t. 🙂

9 comments on “The Dog Ate My Figurine

  1. I was working from my house for 4 mos, which was ok in our state for a kitchen cottage industry and for the initial amount I was doing. But I couldn’t do farmers markets and some other things that require a certified kitchen, and I couldn’t get my kitchen certified because we have a cat. Plus my house is small and the bakery grew so fast I had taken over the downstairs! (You can get your home kitchen certified here pretty easily but not if you have a pet that ever comes inside your house, even if they don’t/can’t go in the kitchen.) We have a cottage on our property that’s been a guest house/office and we thought about converting that to a kitchen, but ended up finding a great deal on a rental space. In NC, a bakery is under the Dept of Agriculture instead of the Health Dept, so it is a MUCH easier process. I didn’t have to have any commercial equipment except a 3-compartment sink, but I got a used commercial oven and stainless tables. I’m all certified and LOVE having enough room to bake without things falling off the back of shelves and tables. And I have room to expand (I also make Granola that we’ve just started wholesaling so one of the appeals of this space vs our cottage was there’s room to grow.). On balance, I miss being at home sometimes and the laundry never gets done now, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE having a space that is organized and bright and easy to use.

  2. Research is key! There were many hours and a few tears as I looked into what it took to open my home based bakery. Starting with the health department is always the first step. I invited the health inspector to my home before I ever spent a dime and talked to him about what was required as far as equipment, licenses, permits, etc. He was very informative and helpful, so I am very lucky in that regard. Zoning is also a big one. I avoided that call for a while because I was scared of what they would say. I live in a subdivision and I was convinced they would say no, but to my surprise the zoned me as a custom workshop and I was good to go…well, after I took out a big loan, and built a kitchen in my basement, and several steps in between 🙂 Thanks for the amazing article, it really is so important!

  3. I know this is an older post, but I live in the USA in a state where we have food cottage laws permitting me to make baked goods out of my home AND the local/state health departments are not allowed to inspect the homes or make requirements of these home businesses. We are restricted by the things we can make (eg no required refrigerated products) and we must have a food handler's certificate. But we are also restricted by how much we can make and how we have to label our products.

    I want to rent a commercial kitchen someday (but I can't yet). Have you ever worried about making arrangements with catering companies/commercial kitchens where you found your stuff go missing? I work primarily with kosher requirements, so I couldn't just cart my things back and forth as easily as catering companies do, and having tools and supplies go missing is a big concern as we all know how expensive they are to replace. Any thoughts on how you would handle something like that?

    1. Hi Kathleen,
      I know of a lot of cake people who rent space from other places like churches, catering companies, incubator kitchens etc – so far no horror stories, but I do think a lot of it coms down to trust. You’ve got to protect yourself as well, make sure things are very clearly labelled, in a secure area, etc. Ultimately it can happen – but if from the outset you set out what the agreement is – eg can they borrow your stuff, can you borrow theirs, etc it will make for a happier working evironment all around.
      Michelle

  4. Hi! I am exactly at this point – desperately looking for a commercial kitchen. I have searched a lot and haven't found anything yet. I live in a small city where options are not as many as in bigger cities. But as you say, I won't give up and will keep asking and researching. Once I find one, I still need to see how much they charge and see if it's still worth it. Thanks for this blog!! xx

  5. Hello and welcome – it's great that you've got a kitchen now! 🙂 You need to do everything there: store stuff, bake, decorate, package etc. When the kitchen is inspected for registration they will ask where you store things and will look at how you store them, eg are they wrapped properly, dated, etc. I have hired kitchens at various times in my career – some only for a few hours, some for several months. From a practicality point of view it's also useful to be able to store things there. It's worth asking the person renting to you if you can leave a box there (like a big plastic storage tub with a clickable lid) or if there is a shelf/cupboard which can be used for your things. Best of luck and keep me posted! 🙂

  6. Hi!
    I've just found your blog and it couldn't be more timely! I'm just at the beginning of starting my business, with a focus at the moment on registered kitchens. I have found a place that I can hire for a few hours to bake, but do you know if I have to store my food there, or if I have to decorate there too.
    I'd love to know of anyone who has hired a kitchen

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