Turning a house into a food manufacturing establishment

Discussion in 'Professional Pastry Chefs' started by macbaker2011, Apr 13, 2019.

  1. macbaker2011

    macbaker2011

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    Hi all! I'm new here. I am a pastry chef and have been making French macarons in a rented commercial kitchen for over 7 years now. I am looking to turn a house we don't live in into a food manufacturing establishment or production kitchen. The house has been empty for about 3 years, empty as in we don't live there, but there are appliances in the kitchen, and furniture, etc. We are still paying public utilities for it, and everything else like trash collection, and we still receive mails in it that aren't important. It's our primary resident (Delaware) in paper, but we live about 40 minutes away in another state (Maryland) because it's where my husband and I prefer to live.

    Currently, we are unsure of what to do with the house. We are not in a hurry to sell it, because it needs some upgrades and we haven't found a reliable contractor to do the job. So now, I am thinking of possibly getting a certification from gods that be, to turn it into a commercial kitchen.

    Has any of you done anything like this? I would like to hear your experience. Thanks!
     
  2. halb

    halb

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    Sure it can be done if the location is zoned for a commercial business. If not you are out of luck.
     
  3. sgsvirgil

    sgsvirgil

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    You can always try to petition for a variance that would otherwise allow a commercial operation to exist in an area zoned for residential use. Its a bit of an uphill battle, but, not impossible. You will definitely need the assistance of an attorney who specializes in this type of law who can tell you if such a thing is even possible.

    A woman I know has a son who is developmentally challenged. The two of them turned their home into a coffee shop in the middle of their neighborhood. Its one of the most popular coffee shops in town. So, what you are looking to do is not impossible or unheard of.

    Should you succeed in changing over your zoning, two things are going to happen. 1) You are going to literally tie yourself to that property almost inexorably. There is not a big demand for commercially zoned properties in the middle of residential neighborhoods. If you go to sell it one day, you will likely have to change the zoning back. That leads to the second potential problem......2) Who is going to want to buy a home that has a kitchen that's been converted into a commercial kitchen? There's not a big demand for that sort of thing.

    Again, assuming you can change the zoning, you are now taking on the burden of building and maintaining a commercial kitchen. That means inspections, commercial grade appliances, renovations to accommodate the commercial appliances, including the very likely probability that you will have to upgrade the existing structure to meet commercial fire codes (sprinkler systems, fire resistant materials etc) as if the property was an actual restaurant or bakery. Again, a lawyer who specializes in this sort of thing can give you the details of terms of the legal requirements, which in and of itself is going to be a couple hundred bucks an hour.

    Insurance is another potential tar pit all by itself.

    The place to start would with the local health department to see what you would need for the kitchen to be up to code and pass an inspection. From there, you can see what zoning requirements would be necessary for potential renovation purposes. Again, that's where an attorney would come in.

    The reality of the matter is that for the money you would potentially spend on renovations, legal fees, zoning board hearings and everything in between, you would probably be better off buying a commercial property that is already zoned for your needs and turn that into your business.

    What you are thinking about doing can be done, but, its the proverbial "reinvention of the wheel."

    Good luck. :)
     
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  4. jcakes

    jcakes

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    If all you want to make in the kitchen is French macaron, you can see if your local Board of Health allows for residential kitchens and see if you can get licensed under cottage food laws. You would have to meet the necessary requirements for a residential kitchen which are slightly less stringent than commercial kitchens but not as daunting; and you *may* not need a variance for a business if residential kitchens are permitted in that town. If you want to be able to make whatever you want in it (stuff that needs refrigeration and is not normally permitted in residential kitchens, for example) then what @sgsvirgil said.
     
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  5. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Infrastructure....

    A house will have anywhere from 60-120 amps, single phase, what will you require?

    Hooking up commercial gas equipment to a residential gas line usually doesn’t work, what will you require?

    Do you need a hood and ventilation system for your ovens? Local municipal still codes vary greatly, what will you require?

    Most municipalities will require you to install a grease trap(grease interceptor). What will you require?

    Like I said, municipal codes for a bakery range all over the place, but infrastructure is #$&*’l-ing expensive no matter where you are. Will it make financial sense to stick all that money into a house, or will it be cheaper to rent a commercial property?
     
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  6. macbaker2011

    macbaker2011

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    Hi all thanks for the responses so far. I guess I'm naive for thinking I could simply ask the health department to grant me a certified kitchen for a small production bakery (earning less(much, much less) than $20k a year since the house isn't occupied in a sense that no one is dwelling in it. I have to admit that I have used it to complete the manufacture of macarons that I couldn't complete in the rented commercial kitchen to avoid excessive rental fees.

    The French macarons are work intensive, and even over the years of making them, I have not truly figured out how to make then in a shorter time than I typically make them. I don't have any employees and I have no plans to expand. I wanna keep doing this until my serve safe certificate expires (2022). I want to eventually pass on the business (of whatever would be useful to a home cottage law baker). My macarons are sold almost exclusively to another small caterer/bakery that has no time to make the macarons. After doing my taxes from last year, I figured that it's no longer worth for me to do it unless I have my own space. The rent as it is (finishing work at home) isn't sustainable. The work involved making them is just not worth the money I'm making out of it. So no, I have no plans to expand, reconfigure the kitchen, or buying new equipment like they have in a certified kitchen.

    My question was truly about those that have been successfully convinced the planning commission or the health department to allow them to make baked goods in a residential home to make small scale production without going through the major expenses.

    After reading the requirements by the health department, it just seems like the kitchen in the old house would be ok for what I do. I had not thought about having to change the zoning code because it wouldn't a establishment where I will have people coming and going as I make my own delveries to the bakery, nor I'll have an employee. Sounds crazy that I want to get away with using a kitchen without the expense, but as a small production baker, I can't truly afford the commercial kitchen anymore. I probably would simply quit the business if this idea isn't going to work. But my customer would be very sad if I did. I had thought about using the bakery's kitchen and to give them a discount on my macarons, but they use their kitchen a lot except for Sundays. I have not discussed this with them however.

    I am running out of options to continue. I may just start teaching classes to make money. At least private lessons aren't regulated that I know of.
     
  7. macbaker2011

    macbaker2011

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    As additional info, the cottage food law here is very restrictive. The macarons do not qualify as food item that could be manufactured according to the cottage food law, nor sold in a bakery or a restaurant. So that's not an option for me.
     
  8. halb

    halb

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    I think you've made your own case. This is just not a viable business for you.
     
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  9. jcakes

    jcakes

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    I think it's worth having a conversation with the health department. All they can say is no. Technically speaking YOU don't have to refrigerate the macaron after they are made; you can put them together and the caterer can store them in their cooler. Very technically speaking macaron are cookies and cookies are permitted under most cottage laws. Your macaron can be filled with jam, yes? I'm not suggesting you deliberately mislead the health dept, but I think you can go talk to them and see what they say gather information, don't volunteer any more info than you have to.
     
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  10. halb

    halb

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    Cottage law permits are administered by the state. AFAIK the health department may get involved after you get a permit to inspect your kitchen but they aren't the ones to issue a permit. So going to them first isn't going to help you.
     
  11. jcakes

    jcakes

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    That's good to know. Here in MA, each city or town BoH is allowed to issue permits for residential kitchens if that city or town allows them. There are restrictions on what can be produced in a residential kitchen but it is up to the BoH to issue the operating permit.
     
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  12. macbaker2011

    macbaker2011

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    Hi! It's true that macarons are technically cookies, and they are commonly filled with jams, ganache, and the buttercream can be made with butter and sugar plus flavors instead of custards. I could simply use those types of fillings to sell in farmers markets instead of some of my French buttercream flavors. good thought

    I will try to bring this up to the city planning and zoning. Thanks for your response.
     
  13. macbaker2011

    macbaker2011

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    I know this much. I've been operating as a food establishment without premises for over 7 years. I know that the health department has to have a say in this. And I have a permit from the health department already which they have been giving me every year.

    One of the reasons I thought of this idea was that I discovered a bakery that was operating in a house in a residential area in another county in the same state where our house is. She has turned it into a store/production space. And there were customers that visited the place for several years before she expanded and rented a space in a shopping center. I could approach her and ask her how she did it I suppose. That's my next step. Or maybe I could strike a deal with her and partner with her by making the macarons for her bakery and use her kitchen in between her own productions.

    Can I ask you if you have your own bakery?
     
  14. macbaker2011

    macbaker2011

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    In Maryland, you don't have to have a permit granted by the state under their cottage food laws. They only ask that you put labels in your products, and that they don't contain perishable ingredients.
     
  15. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Ummm... health inspector has nothing to do with zoning, change of use, installing appropriate plumbing, electrical, and/ or gas lines.

    Your insurance co. will want you to follow the appropriate local codes for plumbing and electrical

    If you want to make money, you’re going have to produce on a bigger scale. In order to produce on a bigger scale, you need commercial equipment. In order to support the commercial equipment, you need commercial infrastructure.
     
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  16. macbaker2011

    macbaker2011

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    I don't think I said that the health dept grant zone variances. I meant that the health department would have to inspect the premises once the city approves the zoning variance.

    If I have to do a major construction to get my kitchen certified to make macarons, I'd just give up the business. My house isn't going to be a factory. And I said in my previous post, I have no interest to expand or continue the business past 2022.

    Again, the reason I thought of this idea was that I know of a bakery in a residential area that operated also as a store. I don't think the house was turned into a full blown factory. I thought I'd ask here just to hear if anyone else had done the same.

    But thanks for your response.
     
  17. halb

    halb

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    Ever think to stop in and ask the owner how they did it?
     
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  18. sgsvirgil

    sgsvirgil

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    I think what you are seeing is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Deleware's restrictions. I took a moment and skimmed through the Cottage Industry Laws and I think the term "restrictive" is a gross understatement.

    The problem you have here is not the business you intend to have. The problem is the tempting illusion that you can produce your goods commercially (and legally) and sidestep the expense that goes with it. It can be done, but, not legally, I'm afraid. I have seen many businesses get dragged under the waves and personal lives ruined because of legal trouble with the state or local authorities. In the end, its just not worth the risk, especially if you are just trying to do something for a finite amount of time out of your own home.

    Like I said previously, for the money and energy that you would otherwise invest in jamming this square peg into a round hole, you could literally lease a commercial property, lease some equipment, produce your macarons until 2022 and probably still be ahead of the game financially without the specter of some sort of legal hassle or a PIA neighbor complaining to the town every other week.

    Good luck. :)
     
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  19. macbaker2011

    macbaker2011

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    Yes, I have. I will contact her in due time. I'm also thinking of partnering with her to make macarons in her bakery to be sold there until she could take over the entire thing by 2022 when I decide to quit. We'll see what she says.

    You are right. I am not confident that I'd get my way with the authorities. I just found this forum, so I thought I'd ask. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    The cottage food law doesn't apply to me, nor practical because I'd have to peddle my macarons in a farmers market only, or for pick up. That's too much hassle compared to delivering wholesale to a bakery in town where the demand for my macarons is pretty good. I guess, I should simply stick to using a rented certified kitchen as I have been doing the last 7 years, or partner with a new bakery near me and see if she's interested.

    I'm focusing on giving macaron classes on a beginner level at the moment. My classes are both sold out (though some people are waiting for the last minute to pay up. I know another thread). Eventually, I would like to give advanced professional level course to those who want to learn all my recipes. I went to a Paris culinary school (Ferrandi) to learn everything I know today about macaron production. I think it's worth something to pass on my knowledge before my swan song, right?

    Thank you all for the responses. I will give everyone's input a good hard look.
     
  20. foodpump

    foodpump

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    I wonder what your insurance agent would say if you ever had to file a claim and it was “determined” that your home was used as a commercial bakery?
     
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