How to Introduce Your Gourmet Food Business

It is most likely that you often invite your friends and relatives to keep sampling your best dishes because you love gourmet foods. People who love cooking so much are always doing this, but the best way to expose your dishes to people is by opening a food business.

To introduce as many people to your gourmet food business as much as possible, just invite as many of them as you can on the day you start producing the food and let them taste your cooking free of charge. You need not implore them to come and buy, but just tell them to feel free to serve themselves. That is how you will end up with loyal customers.

You could also go as a volunteer at a school function or a place like that where your cooking will be sampled by all. If you take time to make as many varieties as possible for such occasions, you will soon find parents and staff, asking about your dishes.

This will start landing you some invitations to serve at smaller functions, house warming or birthday parties. That is a good way to start acquiring a small customer base.

Another step to take is to attend as many house parties as possible and be sure to carry one of your favorite gourmet food items. As they begin to praise your dishes, you will be signing on customers without them knowing it.

Of course many people will begin to notice you and your kindness. It will win you many friends and as the social circle continues to widen, so will your list of future customers. You might also find that a few people will begin to buy from you.

If you care to join some community activities; like volunteer work in a church, school or social center, it will give you a good opportunity to meet more people and let them sample your food.

At first it will be expensive on you as you try to charge moderately for the food, but you must keep it up. To do this, you will need to do your shopping economically and serve just small portions which will not drain more of your money. Remember when one day the business starts to grow; will be a good time to recover your costs.

Carry with you some of your best dishes as you go to different functions, and your list of gourmet food items will continue to grow on people’s pallets. Soon they will start looking for you to sell to them.

Finding the Right Kitchen Space for Your Specialty Food Business

While regulations vary by state, most states have traditionally not allowed you to manufacture food products in your home kitchen if you intend to sell them. In the past year or two, however, several states have enacted “Cottage Food” laws, whereby start up food producers CAN prepare certain foods in their homes without the usual licensing. Each state has its own guidelines regarding what kind of foods are allowed or prohibited, what the labeling requirements are, where these food products can be sold and more. These laws also cap gross sales, so once your sales go above that amount, you become subject to all the usual regulations.

Your best bet is to do an online search on “cottage food laws” for more information about the specific rules and laws in your particular state.

Some states with or without cottage food laws may still require your home kitchen meet commercial grade kitchen standards and pass a health department inspection. No one wants to find dog hair in their food! (In fact, every cottage food state prohibits pets from being in the home.) And even if you are allowed to use a home kitchen, you might still choose to find a commercial kitchen because it’s just more efficient. Once I moved to a kitchen that had the full size commercial ovens, planetary mixer and tons of counter space, there was no going back! It was so much easier and quicker to produce in that environment.

Ideas

So where do you look for commercial kitchen space? You have a lot of options. When you’re looking, keep an open mind and be willing to be creative. There’s really no reason for you to invest in creating your own commercial kitchen space at the start up phase (costs can easily reach $50,000 in no time!) unless you know for sure you have significant production contracts in hand that will justify the large capital outlay necessary.

One choice is to rent space in a kitchen that is already licensed for commercial preparation. Many food entrepreneurs have started out using space in a restaurant, working there during the hours the restaurant is closed. Check out restaurants that are open only for breakfast and lunch; maybe you can use their space in the evenings. Talk to area caterers about using their kitchens too. Depending on what kind of catering they do, they may have the equipment you need. Many caterers aren’t very busy in their kitchens early in the week, so you could be in there on a Monday or Tuesday.

Some areas of the country have incubator kitchens for early-stage food businesses. These facilities offer shared rental opportunities and are fully equipped and licensed. Sometimes these facilities are connected to a university. In other cases, this type of kitchen may cater to a specific type of food business, vegetarian or baking or canning only, for example. One place to look for these types of kitchens is www.CulinaryIncubator.com. If you’re making jam, beans, salsa or the like, you could find a local cannery or canning facility. This page has a list of canning kitchens: http://pickyourown.org/canneries.htm that may be a good start for you.

Co-op kitchens are commercial kitchens that are set up for a variety of food producers and allow you to rent time and space in their facility. One example of such a facility is the Production Kitchen in West Palm Beach. Look online for this kind of arrangement in your area.

Do you have a Moose, Elk, Knights of Columbus or Shriners lodge in your town? Believe it not, this was the place I used in the very beginning of my business’ life. I knew some of the Shriners from the Chamber of Commerce and they were happy to help me get started. They charged a minimal hourly rate and I used their kitchen on Mondays. The men who were members kind of adopted me as their own “cookie lady” and loved coming through the kitchen to see what was going on when I was working there.

When it was time to move on, I ended up in a local church kitchen. Religious houses, like churches or synagogues, are great options because they aren’t usually in use during the week. And you might be surprised at how well-appointed these facilities are. I was! Not having had reason to be in one for years, I was thrilled to find three full-size commercial gas ovens, full-size baking pans, five or six cooling racks, a 35-gallon Hobart mixer, measuring spoons and cups, and an incredible amount of counter and refrigeration at my disposal. Like I mentioned earlier, there was no turning back to something smaller after that.

As a note, you don’t necessarily have to be a member of the congregation to use their kitchen.

Keep in mind that regardless of where you decide to produce your food product, even though that facility will (presumably) have proper licensing and insurance, you will still need some of your own licensing (at the least a city and/or county business license) and liability insurance.

Payment

Some facilities, like the co-op kitchens, will have set prices for their use. Others, like the restaurants and churches, may not have ever participated in such an arrangement before, so you’ll have some flexibility in working with them to establish something that works for both of you. Make sure you know what kind of budget you have to spend on this. The very first place I used, before the Shriners, I negotiated an amount that turned out to be way too high (I wasn’t selling nearly enough product to cover my rent there), and I had very limited access to it. Fortunately I didn’t have a long-term agreement and I was able to get away after just a few months and move to the Shriners’ facility with much more favorable terms. When I started working at the church kitchen, payment was made as donations to the church because non-profit organizations cannot legally rent out kitchen space for a for-profit businesses.

Persistence

As with anything worth having or finding, you may encounter several rejections or dead ends as you search for the perfect place to produce your food product. I can’t recall exactly how many facilities I called. I left messages that weren’t returned and started hopeful conversations with countless people who never followed through. Be prepared for this journey and know that the right situation IS out there for you. Keep on searching and calling and you will meet with success!

Starting a Food Business – Pan Review Prep

This guide is for prospective operators of food enterprises (food establishments, retail food stores, food warehouses, and food processors) desiring to open a food business in either their local city, county or state jurisdiction. This is a general overview and may not be all inclusive of the codes and ordinances in your locality. It is good to note that though this document will more than likely cover most if not all requirements for starting a food business in your jurisdiction, it would be in your best interest to familiarize yourself with the codes and regulations of your local city, county and/or state.

Operating Permits – Food Enterprises

A Food Establishment application can be obtained at your local city or county health department. If you plan to manufacture foods and package for retail sale you may be required to obtain a food manufacturer’s license from your state regulatory agency. If you plan to distribute your product outside of your state lines a federal license may also have to be obtained. It is recommended that you submit a fully completed application and fees at least one month prior to your anticipated opening date. This gives the local authority the needed lead time to process it and schedule any needed pre-opening inspections. Again, make sure that you provide ALL information required on the application. Incomplete applications may delay your approval.

Food permits are generally in effect for one year from the date of issue and are renewable each year thereafter when the appropriate fee is paid and as long as the establishment remains in compliance with applicable Health codes and regulations.

Home preparation of food for public consumption is prohibited. All food that is to be consumed by the public, whether free or for purchase must be prepared at a permitted establishment that is inspected by a federal, state, or local Health Authority.

Food Establishment Fee: Food establishment fees are variable depending on jurisdiction. Contact your local health authority to inquire about permitting fees.

NOTE: Larger establishments that have multiple food service operations on site may need to obtain a health permit for each operation. A separate application and fees may need to be submitted for each operation.

Food Enterprise Pre-Opening Processes

When starting a Food Enterprise business you may be required to go through either or both A) a change of ownership inspection or B) a plan review process. Read through options A & B below to determine which best fits your situation. Contact your local health authority if you need help in making that determination.

A) Change of Ownership Inspection Process-

Before opening for business you may be required to go through a change of ownership inspection. This inspection verifies your establishment complies with current regulations and that clearance to occupy the site has been granted by your city or county. This inspection may incur a fee and the fee for this inspection will more than likely be required to be paid before the inspector conducts the inspection. If applicable, a request for a Change of Ownership application should be available at the offices of your local city or county health authority. Again, to expedite your request, a fully completed application must be submitted. After submitting the application; call to schedule the inspection with your inspector. If the establishment doesn’t comply with current regulations you will be required to bring it up to code before your operating permit is approved. Prospective business owners, if available, it would be in your best interest to request a change of ownership inspection before finalizing the sale. This gives the prospective business owner a heads up on any items that may be required for the establishment to be in compliance with local city or county codes. Under no circumstances may you begin operations without approval from the local city or county health authority. Legal charges may be filed against you if you do.

B) Food Establishment Plan Review Process

A plan review will more than likely be required for any newly built business or in the event of an extensive remodel of an existing business. NOTE: This will also more than likely require a completed application and fees be paid in order to initiate this process.

A Plan Review is required whenever a building is constructed or substantially remodeled to be a food enterprise, whenever a substantial change is made to an existing food facility or may be required if a plumbing permit, building permit, or other construction permit is required by the local city or county development offices.

The Plan Review Application, including proposed menu, Fees, and 1 or more sets of building plans all may be required to be submitted as a package. Review all forms thoroughly to ensure accuracy of information provided. Incomplete or inaccurate applications could delay your plan review. The Plan Review Application should be available at the offices of your local city or county Health Authority. Upon approval, the plans are stamped by the Health Authority and the person submitting the plans will be called to pick them up.

Submit building plans after the type of food operation and menu has been determined and after receiving Building approval from your local city or county development offices. The building plans should be drawn to scale with most plans drawn in a scale of ¼” = 1Ft. and detail the layout of the kitchen, dining area, restrooms, storage areas, break room, wait stations and bar. The plans are to include a materials list of specifications for all floors, walls, and ceilings.

Certificate of Occupancy

All Food Enterprises will more than likely be required to have a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO is issued after the Building and Health Officials inspect the building and find no violations of the Building or Health Codes during new construction and/or a remodel. The CO will also state the use for which the building will be used. The CO Inspection is usually required prior to getting final health approval but in some cases not only may a preliminary CO inspection be required prior to receiving your final health approval but a secondary (final) CO inspection may be required by your building inspector before your Operating Permit is approved. Inquire with your local health authority and building inspectors to see what process is required. NOTE: Contact the building inspectors at least 7 days prior to the time you are ready to schedule your inspection. This should insure that you get a timely response.

Permit Approval

Once you have completed the pre-opening processes and your Building and Health Inspectors have approved your operating permit, you may open for business. Under no circumstances may you begin operations without approval from both the Building and Health Inspectors. Legal charges may be filed against you if you do.

Other Approvals

Building Permits: Plans may need to be submitted for a Commercial Plan Review. If required, contact your local Building or Development Services Office to schedule this review and to obtain a building permit.

Industrial Waste: If you are taking over a previous business and changing the type of operation, ensure the grease trap meets the requirements for your new operation. For example, when a “sandwich shop” becomes a “fried chicken” location, the existing grease trap may need to be modified. Contact your local industrial waste inspector to ascertain if any changes need to be made to the existing system or to evaluate your engineered designs if your plans require the installation of an on-site septic system.

Fire Inspections: Building Inspectors are concerned with grease-laden vapors and proper hood protection in food facilities. All cooking equipment must be installed under an approved hood system. In addition, establishments in excess of 5,000 sq. ft. are required to provide a sprinkler system. Establishments with an occupancy load in excess of 50 people are required to provide fire alarms. Call your local building inspector, fire inspector or fire marshal to evaluate plans or to schedule a site inspection.

What to put in a plan Review

Include and Identify the following on your Building Plans

– Major pieces of equipment

Refrigerator/freezer units

Vent-hood

Ice machines/bins/dispensers

Steamers

Microwaves

Warming Drawers

Stoves

Prep tables

Ice Cream Dispenser

Ovens

Dish Machines

Beverage Station/dispenser

Grills

Mixers

Blender Station

Fryers

Food Processors Salad/Food Buffets

– Sinks

Hand sinks (food prep areas ware-washing area restrooms) Ware washing sinks Service Sink/Mop sink/curbed floor sink Food Prep Sink

– Dumpster

– Grease Barrel

– Chemical Storage areas

– Mop drying area

– Employee area for belongings

– Dry food storage area

– Doors

– Mechanical ventilation in restrooms

– Outdoor food prep areas (bars/wait station/BBQ)

– Grease trap size and location

– Water Wells

– Underground and overhead sewer and waste lines

– On Site Sewage Facility

Health Code Plan Notes

1) Refrigeration All refrigerated units are to hold foods at or below 41°F.

2) Restrooms (two are normally required). If the establishment has only carry-out or seating for less than 20 people, and less than 10 employees, then only one employee restroom may be allowed. Two restrooms may be required if alcohol is served on the premises or more than 20 seats are provided. Each restroom must have a hand sink with hot (at least 100°F) and cold water, mechanical air ventilation to the outside, and a solid, self-closing door. Restrooms may not open directly into a kitchen. The total number of restrooms for a Childcare facility is dependent on the “minimum standards” of the Texas. Dept. of Family and Protective Services (834-3195) as it relates to Childcare.

3) Sinks

A. Service Sink/Mop Sink/Curbed Floor sink: At least one of these must be available for mop washing and disposal of mop water in an approved waste water disposal system. A drying rack is required for mops to air dry. This sink must be provided with a backflow preventer on any threaded hose bib to protect the water supply. Note: the mop sink may be located in a different area of the building than the kitchen.

B. Hand washing sinks: Shall be located to allow convenient use by employees in food preparation, food dispensing, ware wash areas, and any wait station where ice is dispensed, bar area or in a walk-in where meat is cut or trimmed. At least one hand sink will be required; additional, separate hand sinks may also be required. Small kitchens with food prep and ware washing in close proximity may be allowed to use one hand sink to serve both activities. Other hand sinks must be associated with restrooms. Provide at least 12″ tall splashguards if a hand sink is located near food prep, open food, ice, or clean food contact surfaces. Otherwise, the hand sink must have at least 18″ lateral separation from these. A sign or poster that notifies food employees to wash their hands shall be provided to all hand washing sinks and be clearly visible. A small, swinging door (as in a bar area) could separate a hand sink from a work area, otherwise no doors separating hand sink from work areas.

Each sink must be supplied with hot (100°F) and cold water, soap and disposable towels. Childcare facilities must have hot water in the diaper changing area and kitchen. If plans do not provide sufficient hand sinks to meet the requirements of the establishment you will be asked to provide a revised plan with additional hand sinks.

C. Ware Wash Area: A commercial dishwasher or 3 compartment sink is required in most cases. Dish machines must be able to effectively sanitize all equipment and utensils. They must dispense a chemical sanitizer or provide a final rinse of at least 180° F. (single, stationary rack machines are required to reach 165° in the sanitize cycle). Test strips are required. Above-the-counter dish machines are required to have Type II vent-hood.

Ware washing sinks shall be of sufficient size to immerse the largest piece of equipment. Cold and hot (100°F minimum) water under pressure delivered through a mixing valve shall be provided. Provide at least 2 integral drain boards or 1 integral drain board and a mobile dish cart. Drying racks or shelves will aid in adequately air drying all wares. Facilities with very limited ware washing and using disposable containers may request a variance to install a 2 compartment sink (example: convenience store). These sinks are required to have a drain board. The sinks must have an indirect connection to the sanitary sewer (at least a one inch air gap). This includes all food prep sinks and ware wash sinks.

4) Ceiling Construction: Ceilings over open food, ice, soda fountains, ware washing, restrooms and bars must meet construction criteria and be smooth, durable, nonabsorbent, and cleanable. Open rafters, trusses or grid work and exposed duct work, pipes or utility lines are usually prohibited with no open structure permitted. If drop down acoustic tiles are used, they must be properly constructed. These tiles are washable and have a smooth surface without pinholes. Painted dry wall or boards are generally acceptable.

5) Walls/Floors: Must be constructed of approved materials. Cleanable water-based enamel paint is usually acceptable for most wall surfaces. Areas that are subject to regular cleaning and splash may be covered with FRP, stainless, or galvanized metal. Floor/wall junctures shall provide no greater than 1/32″ gap. Baseboards are required. Caulk wall/floor junctures to prevent the collection of food particles and water. Masonry (brick/concrete) wall/floor junctures DO NOT require baseboards since a masonry juncture provides no gap. Raw brick and concrete in the kitchen area requires sealing. The sand grout of all tiles needs to be sealed. Epoxy grout does not require sealing. VCT floor tiles require a coat of wax to seal out liquids.

6) Solid Waste: Dumpster and grease barrels shall rest on a machine laid asphalt or concrete pad. These containers must have tight fitting lids and drain plugs in place.

7) Outdoor Cooking facilities: Barbeque pits or smokers shall be enclosed, and if screened in, at least a 1/16″ mesh screen is required. They shall rest on a concrete or asphalt pad. The meat may only be placed on the smoker; no food prep allowed in this enclosure. Any seasoning, cutting, etc. must take place inside the establishment. Outdoor bars and wait stations will be approved on a case by case basis by your local health authority.

8) Water and Sewage Systems: All private onsite sewage facilities and wells serving a new food enterprise, an extensively remodeled food enterprise, or a food enterprise coming under new ownership must meet current standards. These systems are required to be evaluated with respect to whether the system (a) meets current standards and (b) is adequate for the proposed use.

NOTE: A food service facility or Childcare facility using a well may be considered public water supply and subject to specific restrictions and regulations. Consult your local health authority to inquire about any questions regarding the use of a private well.

9) Protecting the Water Supply: Threaded hose bibs are required to have a backflow prevention device attached. Spray hoses and fill hoses shall hang at least 1 inch above the maximum flood rim of a basin or the hoses shall be provided with an atmospheric vacuum breaker or backflow prevention device.

10) Indirect Connections: Jockey boxes, ice bins, ice machines and sinks (as identified above in # 3) must be provided with indirect connections to the sewer. Floor sinks are required on new construction.

11) Lighting: Adequate amount of light shall be provided to all areas. At least 20 foot candles is required where food is provided for customer self-service such as buffet and salad bars or where fresh produce or packaged foods are sold. At least