Today we feature the story of a home baker who was shut down by the health department. This Micaela’s story in her own words.
“I have always loved baking and eating sweets! My Mom used to bake a lot when I was growing up and I was always in the kitchen helping her or watching her bake. She was famous for her eclairs that she used to donate to the local fish fry’s during Lent. When my Mom passed away in 2000 I sort of took over her recipe box and started teaching myself how to bake those famous eclairs and eventually taught myself more and more as the years passed.
In 2003 I had an opportunity come up where a local restaurant asked if I could bake some cheesecakes and cakes for them. It was this restaurant that helped me start my home baking business. I baked for that restaurant until they closed their doors three years ago. After they closed their doors I started to get more orders for custom designed cakes and cookies and from there my business really took off! Everyone I baked for knew that I was baking out of my home, and no one cared that my kitchen was not a commercial kitchen. They were just happy to have beautifully decorated and delicious desserts made from scratch. During this same time that I was baking for the restaurant I also got married and had 3 small kids within 5 years. I had always planned to stay at home with my kids and raise them, just as my Mom had done for us until we got older and she went back to work. Baking from home while caring for my kids was the perfect solution for our family. It allowed me to still feel like I was contributing to our household financial income while also caring for our children.
Many people would ask me when I was going to open up a storefront bakery. My answer has always been the same, too much work and time away from family. Storefront bakeries often do not survive unless you work 80+ hours a week and crank out cakes and cookies like crazy. I did not want to become a baker that made the same thing over and over again. What I love most about baking is being able to make unique, one of a kind cakes and getting creative with my design.
So I kept baking from home and while I knew that what I was doing was not legal, I also knew that the health department did not have time for tiny little bakers like me who were just a little blip in the small business world. I also knew that my customers did not care that I baked from my home. They knew their baked goods were coming straight from my kitchen, the same kitchen I cook my family meals in. No one cared until the day that I got a knock on my front door. It was the health department.
This past February I was in the middle of icing over 200 cookies for an order when the health department showed up at my house, completely unexpected with no warning whatsoever. The inspector wanted to know if I was the owner of “XYZ” baking business and told me to shut it down. He said that a “concerned citizen” reported my business to them. I asked if this concerned citizen had gotten sick from my desserts. Nope, no one reported any illnesses from my baked goods nor anyone else’s baked goods. He stated that I was not the only home baker, there were hundreds doing what I was doing. He seemed to feel bad for having to shut me down. I later found out that two more local home based baking businesses were shut down the same week as my business. Through the Freedom of Information Act, myself and the two other bakers were able to find out that it was the same “concerned citizen” that reported all three of our businesses. To this day, we are convinced that this “concerned citizen” was merely concerned with their own storefront bakery and its survival. We were and still are very saddened if this was indeed the reason for reporting us to the health department, as there has always been plenty of customers out there needing desserts and more than enough business to go around.
There was a news report on TV the very next night here in Northern Kentucky about these “rogue” bakers that were illegally baking their goods out of their homes and selling them. I suddenly felt as if I were not actually selling delicious baked goods, but deadly drugs like heroin or cocaine. It was completely ridiculous how the news portrayed these rogue bakers but it was also the moment I realized that Kentucky needs to change its laws about home based bakers. I live less than 10 minutes from Cincinnati, where the cottage food law is much more lenient than Kentucky. It’s super frustrating knowing that if I only lived a few miles north, what I’m doing from my home would be perfectly fine!
I am now baking out of a certified commercial kitchen which I am eternally grateful to the couple that owns the kitchen and reached out to me when they heard my business had been shut down. However, it’s not the same as baking from my home kitchen where I can stop icing cookies halfway through and run my kids to soccer practice, change out the laundry or run down to check on my Dad who is battling Alzheimer’s.
Thank you for listening to my story!”
By: Micaela, Home Baker from Kentucky