Do I Dare? (Va Home-Baking)

Business By LisaKinVA Updated 13 Feb 2013 , 6:37pm by LisaKinVA

LisaKinVA Posted 1 Feb 2013 , 5:56pm
post #1 of 16

I've been reading up a bit...seems if I want to do cakes from my home it starts with the Dept. of Agriculture.  Kitchen Inspection, samples...ingredient labels (if I'm going to sell anything at retail)...pre-approval for all recipes/ingredients...storing equipment/food...getting a commercial fridge/freezer is also recommended (although not required)...fur-baby issues (we have an aquarium...)  And I already know my county doesn't require a business license.


I mostly anticipate making cakes for friends and family...and occasional events.  My daughter is quite talented already, so the opportunity for her to do this as a side business is something I'm considering.  We have a LOT of experimenting before we'd be ready to "hang out a shingle" so-to-speak...I figure it would take us about a year to get everything ready, make a business plan, get required things out of the way, develop a design portfolio...


...but in the end, is it worth it?  Is this something she could make some decent money for a young teen?  (we live OUT, so babysitting is difficult).  I know there would be things we'd have to do to build the business.  Are the regulations so onerous that it would not be worth my time?  Is starting something like this something I would regret?  


So much more to research and learn, but I kind of think this could be a good opportunity for her to use a lot of her skills...and something she could take with her.


Thank you for any enlightenment you provide...warnings...cautionary tales...sunshine & roses...I appreciate it.

15 replies
jason_kraft Posted 1 Feb 2013 , 6:31pm
post #2 of 16

AIt may or may not be worth it depending on the local market, your specialty, and the overhead costs involved. Start with a comprehensive business plan, you should be able to get help from your local SCORE chapter. At the very least your daughter will learn about entrepreneurship.

Chances are the opportunity costs (since your daughter will be shifting her focus away from school) will outweigh the financial benefits.

Blueridgebuttercream Posted 5 Feb 2013 , 8:45pm
post #3 of 16

Hi Lisa, fellow VA caker here.  I just noticed your post.  Unfortunately, I can't speak as to whether it's ultimately financially worth it, since I started my business just last year and certainly didn't  make a net profit!  However, I think I can provide some useful information about the onerousness of the regulations. 

The actual requirements for the VDACS inspection sounded a lot harder than they actually were, in my experience.   

  • My inspector was super helpful in clarifying all my questions before hand.  While the paper work was kinda of a slog to get through, it's a one time thing.  The inspection itself was a breeze - no white gloves checking for dust on top of the fridge :) and she certainly didn't pull out the stove and make sure I'd cleaned behind it! 
  • I was never asked to provide samples (and I do lots of egg-based frostings and fillings that require refrigeration).
  • Commercial refrigeration is certainly far from required.  All I have is an standard fridge I bought used, just have to make sure I have thermometers in it to make sure it is keeping to temp.  I mean, this thing is avocado green and the inspector didn't bat an eye, just checked the temps. 
  • Since I sell custom-orders direct to the consumer, I am not required to have labels.  
  • We have a cat - not an issue, since I have a door to keep her out of the kitchen.  I don't think they care in the slightest about aquarium fish.
  • The thermapen and chlorine test strips for sanitizing definitely pleased the inspector.    

The two things I have found more difficult and/or expensive are the liability insurance and taxes.  The cheapest liability insurance I could find was over $300/year, which would have covered up to $100,000 in revenue, so a bit silly for my just-starting-out purposes.  They wouldn't bother to write a policy for less, however.  Not worth their while.  Self-employment taxes are also an issue, plus all the hassle of keeping up the paperwork and accounting for all the other small taxes (sales, meals, inventory, business equipment taxes, etc.)

As someone who worked throughout high school and college, I'm having trouble even relating to a worldview in which teenagers aren't supposed to work, since that takes their focus away from school.  I paid for most of my own (private) college, working several part-time jobs (at one point, 3 simultaneously), and still graduated summa cum laude (I even had friends and a social life!)  You'll know whether your daughter is the type to thrive on hard work :)  The sort of education she'd get from actually participating in running a real small business would be invaluable and could well be far more practical in terms of eventual job prospects than anything she'll learn in high school.  In my opinion, it's almost a necessity to have some sort of marketable skills/work experience to put on your resume coming out of college.  Nowadays, you show up with your shiny new BA degree and nothing else and they'll laugh you out of the building. 

costumeczar Posted 5 Feb 2013 , 9:19pm
post #4 of 16

I agree that the process of getting licensed sounds harder than it is. The inspectors are very helpful and they'll answer questions for you. It's a lot of paperwork to begin with but after that it's minimal.


VA also has a cottage food law, so I don't know how that fits in with the inspection process, since they aren't inspected. I'm not sure that you have to do the same paperwork if you're going to be operating under that set of rules. The Dept of Agr. can help you with that.


Insurance is important to have, so start with your homeowners insurance to see if they can piggyback a policy with what you already have. If they don't know how to categorize you tell them that it's the same kind of insurance that caterers have.


With self-employment taxes, just put some aside over time to pay that and you should be fine.

jason_kraft Posted 5 Feb 2013 , 9:32pm
post #5 of 16


Original message sent by Blueridgebuttercream

As someone who worked throughout high school and college, I'm having trouble even relating to a worldview in which teenagers aren't supposed to work, since that takes their focus away from school. 

To clarify, my comment was based on the amount of work required to launch and operate a successful business. There's nothing wrong with a high school student having a part-time job, but without an adult partner to take on a good portion of the work it doesn't seem feasible to run a business that may take 40-60+ hours per week of their time.

College is a different story since schedules are much more flexible.

Blueridgebuttercream Posted 5 Feb 2013 , 11:00pm
post #6 of 16

"Without an adult partner"?  Um, isn't the original poster talking about being precisely the opposite situation - being an adult partner?  And I see no reason why a teenager would necessarily have to spend 40-60 hours on the business.  Is it physically impossible to be successful as a part-time caker?  (In my definition of successful, you make more money than you spend.)  As a minor living with her mother, she doesn't have the pressure to earn an income large enough to be self-sufficient, so she can do only enough business to make a profit, rather than pay the mortgage and the health insurance.

Costume Czar reminded me of the whole non-inspection route.  LisaK, you may already know this, but the home processor exemption from inspection has more restrictions on what you can sell and you have to label them as non-inspected, but if there was any particular papers you had to file with VDACS, I couldn't find them.  So if you're already planning on only doing non-perishable cakes and nothing that needs refrigeration, that's definitely something to consider. 

-K8memphis Posted 5 Feb 2013 , 11:15pm
post #7 of 16

teens usually have summers free and that's wedding season of course


sounds like a great plan to me

jason_kraft Posted 5 Feb 2013 , 11:17pm
post #8 of 16


Original message sent by Blueridgebuttercream

"Without an adult partner"?  Um, isn't the original poster talking about being precisely the opposite situation - being an adult partner?

It wasn't clear based on my reading, I got the impression that this would be her daughter's side business. If OP is willing and able to put the time in it can definitely work.

And I see no reason why a teenager would necessarily have to spend 40-60 hours on the business.  Is it physically impossible to be successful as a part-time caker?  (In my definition of successful, you make more money than you spend.)

It is certainly possible to be successful as a part-time caker (where the definition of successful is a positive net income after taking into account ingredients, labor, and overhead), but it's more difficult due to the fixed overhead involved such as license fees and liability insurance. If the primary goal is making money there are more efficient ways to do so, but I agree that being involved in starting a business can be a great learning experience and an excellent point on a resume.

costumeczar Posted 5 Feb 2013 , 11:55pm
post #9 of 16

Even if the teenager is the only one doing the work, and only doing one cake evey other week, it would still be an excellent learning experience. Going through the whole process of starting a business legally and running it will teach her a lot. If she wants to make it a full-time summer job for herself there's no reason she wouldn't be able to, and then keep it up part time during the school year. Working from home would give her a lot more flexibility time-wise than she'd have if she had to work for someone else, too.

jason_kraft Posted 6 Feb 2013 , 1:59am
post #10 of 16

AThere are also some legal issues regarding minors, signing contracts, and ownership of business entities. Nothing insurmountable if a parent can co-sign, just something to be aware of. The SBA has an article with more info.

LisaKinVA Posted 7 Feb 2013 , 3:10pm
post #11 of 16

Wow...thank you everyone.  I would definitely be an adult partner.  My daughter is only 11 at the moment...and a cake every other week or so is really all we can manage  We've been doing more than that recently, though (lots of events we're involved with, providing desserts, she was working on a cake decorating badge, etc.).  We have a BIG cake week next week, I'm helping a group of girls make a 3-tier cake, and we're making two half sheet cakes to serve at a fundraiser...after 3 birthdays in January, plus a couple of big cake events...we're all caked out!


DD and I are taking the Wilton classes right now, and I'll be getting the information.  I think we'll be taking the year to work through it.  She has a business name all picked out, and may enlist the help of her older brother with things as well.  We're planning on mostly shelf-stable things to start.  As an FYI, the refrigerator/freezer was more for space concerns than anything.  We have a family of seven, and fully utilize two refrigerators and an full-size freezer...our old refrigerator is wearing out, and I was planning to replace it with a "commercial style" refrigerator and a "commercial style" freezer to give us more options/space.

justdesserts Posted 8 Feb 2013 , 1:52am
post #12 of 16

I'm in Virginia as well, and I remember being so overwhelmed when I first started up my small home business 6-7 years ago. It wasn't too bad, though, it just took a little while to get the paperwork done at the beginning. My inspector is so super nice, I was extremely nervous the first time she came, and she totally put me at ease! She actually just called today to set up her next inspection... :)

I had to set up meals tax with the county, as well as state sales tax. Not a huge deal once you get started and keep records. Last year is actually the first year I have gotten myself out there, thus made more money, and therefore this will be the first time I have to deal with filing federal and state income taxes with all the self-employment stuff. A little leery about that!

It depends on what exactly you want to sell whether you need to go the whole inspection route - I did, because I am paranoid about following the law, and I planned to sell things like cheesecakes that require refrigeration. The thing that annoys me is having to submit the 3 copies of each new recipe, the new sample labels, etc. every time I find a good recipe I want to add to my repertoire. Ugh.

I hope it goes well for you! It would be a good experience, I think. :D

LisaKinVA Posted 8 Feb 2013 , 1:58am
post #13 of 16

Well, I took the first step and contacted the DoA.  My daughter is definitely excited.  We just did our first ganache/fondant cake for her birthday.  Still have some tweaking/testing to do -- but with another couple of events coming up (bake sale for her scout troop, end of the year ceremony cakes, Blue & Gold Ceremony cake, birthday, anniversary...we've got more opportunities to test things!


I'm heading to a Restaurant Supply Wholesaler I'll be checking some other things out as well.  Thankfully, this isn't my first business venture...just the first with food.  I think we have a great network to start finding some business once we are ready, though.


Now...back to learning!!

-K8memphis Posted 8 Feb 2013 , 10:27pm
post #14 of 16

oh i am so excited for you


what a tremendous adventure


my daughter has helped me many times and it's really special/awesome/etc


and i was her 'consultant' on a cupcake wedding she did for a friend of hers


it's the bombshabomb to work with each other like that


~~i wish you guys the best and more!

-K8memphis Posted 8 Feb 2013 , 10:31pm
post #15 of 16

we have a cake shop called 'cakes by mom and me' right across the river in west memphis


they are really good


sweet idea huh--just like yours!

LisaKinVA Posted 13 Feb 2013 , 6:37pm
post #16 of 16

That sounds really cute -- cakes my mom & me :D  


Right now, I'd be ecstatic if my dd could clean as she goes (Lordy, the mess she makes!  It is un-real...I know baking can get messy, but she takes it to a whole 

'nother level!).


We have class I'll be posting pictures later.  

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