The Cheesecake Factory at Home.
December 19, 2013 12:39 PM   Subscribe

I have a great cheesecake recipe. I want to bake it for a small profit or no profit, mostly for fun and to see what it's like to run a business. It does not have to be an official LLC or anything, but can be. What do I need to know to run this business?

The cheesecake recipe is good. It has put my partner's friend through university. It gets ooh's and aah's every time we bring it somewhere. And we bake it for friends and family as presents. They request it.

I can consistently make the cheesecake. It's just plain. I don't want to mess around with potentially paying customers. I know how to schedule things, so that I don't overbook myself. I have a Square to take payments. I plan to get a couple of extra cheesecake pans and some boxes and liners for the cakes. I have about 10 to 15 hours a week to devote to this, but would prefer not to have to make deliveries.

I'm asking more general business questions, such as, how do you get paying customers? Where do you advertise? What kind of laws about home bakeries should I be aware of? Should I make a website at all? Just generally tell me things I should know if I decide to go on this venture.
posted by ethidda to Work & Money (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you? Whether this is legal at all depends on your location. In some places, there are requirements you can meet for a home kitchen to produce commercially, in others this is simply forbidden (your only option would be to rent commercial kitchen space).
posted by ssg at 12:41 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

May not be legal due to food handling issues.

My sister does fancy cakes for people all the time though. She takes cash.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:42 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

You may want to look into whether your jurisdiction requires you to bake in a commercial kitchen. Not all areas will allow people to sell food items made in a home kitchen to the general public.
posted by Sara C. at 12:43 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Depending on your location, you may NOT be able to bake at home - you may need to rent commercial space. In the U.S., at least, there are so many rules governing food safety that it's a practical impossibility for a home kitchen to fulfill them all. I would imagine that this holds especially true for dairy products (highly perishable and all).

Once you've gotten that squared away, it's all about the networking: start a company blog (HECK YES you need a website - a lot of people won't even patronize a company that doesn't have a site, for better or worse), promote the hell out of it, ask your friends to promote the hell out of it, use lil' marketing tricks (i.e. raffles, giveaways, renting booths at local craft fairs, etc).
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:46 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

An acquaintance's mother of mine does this. She has relationships with a few local restaurants in the Outer Banks in North Carolina such that she drops off ten or twenty delicious cheesecakes per week in exchange for roughly $30/cheesecake. Her and her husband have been in the restaurant business for years, so how you make connections and how she has made her connections may or may not vary. But yeah, make some phone calls to restaurant owners and be familiar with the legal aspect in advance of those phone calls.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:47 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I knew someone who started a baked goods CS"A". She just told all her friends and had a facebook page or website. It was a weekly service.
posted by aniola at 1:04 PM on December 19, 2013

It's not immediately obvious, but FarmPlate has listing of commercial kitchens and incubator programs (on the R > Categories > Incubators and food processing facilities).

Also many churches have their kitchens certified as commercial and will have reasonable rates.

Yes, have a website! Squarespace looks easy, clean, cheap and does the SEO for you.
Get business cards to hand out (Moo?). I often won't buy things on the spot, but will hang on to the business card until the time comes. Take good pictures of your cakes! Etsy has lots of product photo tutorials. You don't need a fancy camera - just good lighting and composition. Get a booth at the farmers market (especially if it's once a month... less of a time suck)?

Make sure you track your income/spending so you don't accidentally end up doing this at a loss... basic small business double-entry bookkeeping is a must.

Make sure you have packaging sorted out... cake boxes and stuff.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:06 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the information so far. As for location, I'm in Seattle (city proper). It looks like I have to look into commercial kitchens, or just do it for cash. Part of the draw was that I already had almost everything needed to bake cheesecakes, though.
posted by ethidda at 1:09 PM on December 19, 2013

If you're still in Washington, here is a bunch of information on cottage food operation:
posted by aniola at 1:15 PM on December 19, 2013

Ah, hey! You are still in Washington!
posted by aniola at 1:15 PM on December 19, 2013

Since you're working with potentially hazardous ingredients (eggs and dairy) and a finished product that requires refrigeration, and your operations wouldn't otherwise fall under the list of food operations that do not need permits, if you're looking to operate and sell fully above the board, you'll almost certainly need an approved kitchen to bake in.

I think perishable stuff like custard and cheesecake are specifically excluded from products that can be made by cottage food operations, but you might want to double-check the application packet [PDF] just in case.

Here are King County's rules for catering and home-based food establishments -- NB this part:
No food service can be approved in a home kitchen, unless there are two separate kitchens.
A commercial kitchen must be totally separate from the kitchen used by the people who live there. An approved kitchen in a home would have to meet all of the requirements for any commercial food service. These requirements are detailed in the Food Service Plan Guide [PDF].

As an alternative to constructing your own kitchen, the catering business could be operated out of an already approved kitchen. All food preparation would take place in the approved food service. Restaurant kitchens that are not open all the time or that have extra work space could possibly be utilized. Some church, school or community center kitchens may also be acceptable. The "shared" kitchen situations are evaluated on an individual basis.
Fortunately, Seattle is chock full of these places. Here are a few:
* Washington Commercial Kitchens for Rent
* A&J Commissary (just south of downtown)
* KBM (west)
* Four Seasons Gourmet Foods (north)

SmallFoodBiz will give you a lot of information and tricks of the trade: how to start a home-based food business, things home cooks need to consider before starting a cottage food business, business planning, financials, marketing.

And if you're looking for a basic, no-frills website, Wordpress and Squarespace are great places to start.
posted by divined by radio at 1:31 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think North Seattle CC offers a continuing ed class called something like "starting your own home-based food business."

That in itself probably gives you a sense of market saturation. ;)
posted by stowaway at 2:24 PM on December 19, 2013

If you find you do need commercial space, think about looking into churches, temples, or community type halls (italian american club, knights of columbus, etc) - several of them have kitchens that fall under the appropriate scope for businesses and often will rent them WAY cheaper than, say, a restaurant or a bakery during its off hours.
posted by firei at 7:29 PM on December 19, 2013

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