Most state laws mandate that any food products sold to the public must be prepared in a commercial kitchen. But opening a retail bakery is a big investment for an unproven business. For example, when Erin McKenna founded the vegan bakery BabyCakes NYC in 2006, she was out some $38,000 in startup costs for construction, equipment, inventory, and permits, and more than $11,600 in monthly expenses for rent and utilities, staffing, inventory, and insurance. If you don’t have access to that kind of dough, here are a few other ways to bring your baking business to life.
Join a cooperative commercial kitchen. If you need access to restaurant-grade equipment, but you aren’t ready to buy or rent your own commercial space, a co-op is the perfect solution. In shared kitchens, individual bakers and cooks sign up as tenants and pay for exclusive rights to use the kitchen for a specific number of hours each month. Because the costs are shared among multiple people, co-ops are often very affordable: Evergreen Kitchen in Bremerton, Wash., charges just $300 per month for eight hours a week of exclusive kitchen time. Possible drawbacks: The nearest co-op may not be that close to you, and you’ll want to make sure that you have a secure way to transport your finished products.
Rent a restaurant or facility kitchen during its off-hours. If there’s no co-op kitchen in your area, look into renting kitchen space from a restaurant or another facility, such as a school, church, or community group hall. If you have an “in” with a higher-up at one of these institutions, start there; if not, call the restaurant or kitchen manager to discuss the possibilities.
Work as a personal chef. You can get around the “commercial kitchen” requirement if you cook for people in their homes. As a personal chef, you bring all of your raw ingredients and equipment to the clients’ kitchens. Most often, personal chefs prepare up to a week’s worth of meals in one visit and package and refrigerate or freeze each dish for later use. In some cases, personal chefs also cater client parties and special events. If a client has requested a large product order, this may be a viable way to produce it: Just make sure that the kitchen meets your standards and that the client has a clear expectation of how the process will work.
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