Making Her Mark, Brooke’s Baking Story

Today we feature a story of a baker who had a successful bourbon cupcake business, but the challenges with Kentucky’s law ultimately became too much. This is her story in her own words.

“In 2012, I was working as a tour guide for a local Bourbon distillery when I decided to make some bourbon cupcakes for my co-workers. The cupcakes were a hit! I started thinking about how I could make these cupcakes into a business, tapping into the booming bourbon industry and created a business plan. I toyed around with different packaging ideas and eventually settled on small, 4 ounce mason jars, with a bite-sized spoon tied on.

I had planned on trying to sell them, while keeping my current job, as a way to make some extra money and put my business education to work (I was currently in school for my business degree). But, instead, I found myself unemployed just a few months later, after the company laid off several employees. To make matters worse, I was also 6 months pregnant. I knew it would be nearly impossible to find a job in my current, pregnant state, so I decided to make this cupcake idea work. But, I was met with a lot of hurdles.

In KY, I had to make my cupcakes in a licensed commercial kitchen, which was hard to find. The commercial kitchen requirements included a 3 compartment sink, grease trap, bathroom, separate hand washing sink, and much more. Since I was just making cupcakes, a lot of the requirements weren’t necessary for me (like the grease trap).I had contacted over 75 churches, business and other centers to try to rent their kitchen space before I finally found one that would allow it. The downfall was that it was a Catholic school cafeteria kitchen, which meant that the availability was not exactly what I needed. I had to work around the school schedule, and church schedule. Not only did I have to work around their schedule, but I had to load and unload all of my ingredients, supplies and jars back and forth from the kitchen. I also had to become a certified food safety manager, which had to be renewed every 2 years. I had to obtain liability insurance, per my contract with the kitchen, which I rented by the hour. I also had to get my own, separate food license/permit. I had to submit my labels for approval. The list goes on and on.

I stayed in business for 2 years before I decided to accept a job offer. I closed my cupcake business for the next year. I ended up opening my business back up in 2016 and once again, was met with the same hurdles I faced in 2012. This time around, I lived in a different house that had a full basement and I decided to convert a portion of that into my own commercial kitchen that would make operating so much easier. No more loading/unloading. No more commuting to a kitchen. No more working around someone else’s schedules. Having my own kitchen would allow me to work faster and produce more cupcakes than I could before. But, again, the kitchen requirements were nearly impossible. While they were willing to give me a pass on the grease trap requirement, they insisted that I would need a separate septic tank and based the size of that tank off of my house. The cost for the septic tank alone was estimated to be around $7500. Just to reiterate- they mandated that I have a completely separate septic system just for cupcakes. That doesn’t include the other costs for the kitchen, like the 3 compartment sink, appliances, wall coverings, etc. I decided that it was too costly to have my own kitchen and (eventually) found another kitchen to rent that was 40 minutes from my house.

At the end of 2016, my husband accepted a position for a company in Tennessee and we decided to relocate. Originally, I had planned on moving my business with us, since it was primarily wholesale, and I shipped my cupcakes. Again, the requirements were impossible and I decided to close my business, instead.  In Tennessee, you can bake in your home kitchen as long as you’re not shipping out of state. I had a website with a lot of online orders, so I couldn’t do that. Working around the kitchen requirements was simply too costly and time consuming.

While I understand that food safety is of up-most importance, one thing really bothered me- that if I had a farm, I could produce without all of the red tape. They’re using a one-size-fits-all model and it doesn’t allow any modifications specific to the business/product being produced. It hinders small businesses from starting and/or flourishing and it ended my business, twice. I closed up shop in 2016 swearing to never open another food based business again.”

Brooke Wilkerson, Home Baker from Kentucky

Brooke now lives in Tennessee, a state that allows bakers to sell from a home kitchen. For more information:

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  1. Terrible story & ending. Wish I could rewrite it for Brooke. 🙁
    I relate. I do. I do. packing. renting. requirements. out of reach. schedule. bad options. risks. etc.., ridiculous and unfair.

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