Custom Cookies, Family Tradition – Joanna’s Baking Story

Today we feature a baker who’s story sounds all too familiar for home baker’s who have attempted starting small home based businesses in the state of Kentucky. This is Joanna’s story in her own words.

“Families have traditions. Every Christmas my mom baked and iced cookies that she used to decorate our tree and that she gave friends and family as gifts. She used a butter knife to spread icing on them.  They weren’t fancy but they tasted amazing and everyone looked forward to Kathy’s Christmas cookies. She got the recipe from the mother of her best friend in college, now more than 50 years ago.

When I got married I started using the recipe and thanks to Martha Stewart I picked up a few cookie decorating skills using pastry bags and tips.  I started making the cookies not only at Christmas, but for other holidays as well. I especially loved making Halloween cookies! Many times over the years friends have urged me to sell the cookies. I never even gave it a second thought. Two years ago this October I happened to post a photo of my Halloween cookies on Facebook and a new acquaintance saw the picture and asked if I could make her some to give to her children’s teacher.  I thought why not? And that was the beginning of JO-Made Cookies.

My customers were friends and acquaintances in my community. My advertising was word of mouth. I put together a Facebook page to showcase the cookies I made. I bought lots of new cookies cutters, looked for ideas on Pinterest, and watched YouTube videos of new techniques to ice cookies.  I slowly got better and more confident. I was so excited to find something that I was pretty good at, that people enjoyed, and at the same time earn a little extra money while raising my family. It was the perfect small (minuscule) business. I had the flexibility to take care of my family, help out at my kids school, go to their sporting events and make cookies around our schedules all while earning some income to supplement my husbands teacher’s salary.

That all changed early this year when one morning there was a knock on my door from the health department. Someone had sent an anonymous email reporting my business and two other local home bakers. I had to cease my baking immediately. We weren’t reported for making someone sick or an issue with our products. We don’t know for sure who reported us but we can only assume it was someone threatened by our success. The other two bakers, unlike myself had been baking for years out of their homes without ever a complaint or problem.

Our customers were furious and disappointed. They knew we were baking from our homes.  They were comfortable with this. My customers came right into my home and my kitchen to pick up their cookies. We were devastated. I started reading and for the first time learned about cottage food law. I discovered pretty quickly that Kentucky was one of only a few remaining states that made it virtually impossible for a home baker to work legally from home. If I lived just about anywhere else in the country I would be able to be licensed and inspected in my home and continue to bake.

I wasn’t sure what to do next. I surely didn’t want to give up this business and passion I had created. I knew my customers would be loyal. I had to regroup and figure out how to move forward. I located a really great commercial kitchen and am currently renting space there.  I realized right away that although this is a fabulous resource for small food businesses just getting started, it wasn’t quite the right fit for me. My product is custom and made to order and icing cookies takes a long, long time. Working out of a commercial kitchen is a way for me to keep my business going but long term it is not a financially feasible option. I am actually losing money at this point.

I have been very lucky to have a husband who is supportive of my business and to have a home where I had some unused space, so I hatched a plan to get my business back home by enclosing a room and installing a commercial kitchen space. I am currently in the middle of construction and am hoping for this space to be completed in the next month. When all is said and done I will be spending upwards of $20,000 to accomplish this. I am blessed to be in a position to do this just so I can continue my passion. The irony is that if I lived 10 minutes across the river, in Ohio, none of this would be necessary. There are many, many home bakers in our state with amazing talents baking products that are in high demand. We are just seeking an opportunity to continue our small business in a safe and reasonable way. Thank you for taking the time to read my story!”

Joanna, Baker from Kentucky

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