The world may be focused on technology, but in the past two Pandemic years , many businesswomen discovered their baking chops selling their cakes, cupcakes, and cookies from home and building them into regular retail bakeries and even franchises. After all, grassroots baking businesses have been around for awhile. (Mrs. Fields started selling her iconic cookies in the 1970s.) In 2020, there were approximately 168,890 bakers in the United States.
The Pros and Cons
Some of the Pros: If you love to bake, you can do what you love and make a living working at home
- Creative expression. Perhaps you put a unique twist on your baked goods.
- Easy to start. You already have a kitchen and knowledge of cooking.
- There’s always a market for yummy baked goods.
- Can sell locally and/or online, depending on your baked good’s ability to be delivered or shipped.
And some of the Cons: There’s a downside to all businesses
- Food service businesses are usually regulatedby your state’s occupational or health department, so you’ll need to find out your state’s laws regarding the sale of food items baked from home and make sure you comply.2
- Most states require that your baking equipment (i.e. mixers and spoons) and supplies (i.e. flour) be separate from your personal cooking use. In some cases, you’ll need a separate kitchen.3 Some states allow you to use your personal kitchen, but you’ll still need separate equipment and supplies.4
- You only earn money when you sell baked items, which means you can spend a great deal of time cooking in order to create enough goods to sell to meet your income goals.
- While your family may love your cooking, your customers may not.
- Competition might be tough and you’ll need to know how to stand out in the crowd.
- If you are successful, it’s likely that you’ll outgrow your home kitchen.
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How Two Home Bakers Did It
womensbiz talked with two home bakers who launched their small baking businesses during the Pandemic.
Birdie’s Batch, started by Sara Cann, in her mid-30s has been flourishing for 2 years in Rockland County, NY.
Business owner. Sara Cann, designed her business so she could still raise her girls. The financial startup costs were about $3,500. Because they sell online and at farmer’s markets, the time commitments can range from civilized to intense. When they have markets, it takes about 60 hours to prep. It’s just daughter and mother pushing out the production for the markets, so there are solid 12-hour days of baking, labeling, packaging, and advertising for the market.
It’s always been a family affair. “My mom (Vinnie Cann) and I started this business. She makes all the jams—recipes she’s perfected over 30 years, and it’s her relationships with farmers that secures us the ripest, local produce. We split the baking responsibilities, and I take care of all the admin/marketing/website tasks. I love spending weekend mornings with my mom, sipping our brews and strategizing about what to make next.”
“I grew up in West Nyack, just 6 minutes from where I live now.
My mom was a fulltime mom for my sister and me, while my dad ran Apex Technical School, a trade school in Manhattan, founded by my grandfather and run later on by my Dad.”
“Mom made everything from scratch—butter, bread, jam, etc. She was ahead of her time in regard to food safety and health issues and wouldn’t let us eat anything with nitrates or preservatives, so she made everything herself. She’s half French half Italian, and her grandmothers taught her how to cook. She passed that down to me (though I haven’t quite mastered her skill level). My grandfather was always an “ideas man” and one of his famous sayings was, ‘Make a mess now, and clean it up later.’ Which is something I tried to remember when I’m being too timid to start a new venture: If you don’t make a mess and just try something new, you may never start. As far as an entrepreneurial spirit, my family has roots in starting companies in New York., In addition to my grandfather’s Technical School, my aunt started the French Culinary Institute. I obtained a BA in journalism from Boston University.”
Sara Cann ‘s career began in magazine journalism at Men’s Health magazine. After writing for Oprah, Fast Company, and Women’s Health, she wanted to specialize in food so she applied to the French Culinary Institute and graduated valedictorian from the Classic Culinary Arts program.”
“I absolutely loved culinary school—if I could make that into a full-time job, I would, but alas, I graduated and ended up working in the test kitchen at Saveur magazine. They asked me to stay on to help edit Saveur: The New Classics Cookbook. It was only part-time, so I applied for what seemed like a random restaurant position listed on Craig’s List that advertised as needing a ‘recipe writer.’ I had just spent months writing and testing recipes at Saveur, plus had written for magazines, and thought why not apply? I got it, and ended up writing hundreds of recipes for The Fireman Hospitality Group over the seven years I worked there. My position grew from recipe writer to Director of Food Operations, and I loved being in the kitchens, working with the back-of-house staff, and the culinary directory from Bologna, Italy. I was laid off because of COVID in 2020, right after I came back from maternity leave. I learned a lot from that job, and it gave me the tools I use today in running my small business.”
“The idea for Birdie’s Batch was brewed in 2017. I had a logo designed by my good friend as a gift for my mom to spark the idea to sell her jam. It was put on the back burner because I was working full time in the restaurant industry, but when COVID plowed through the industry, it gave me the opportunity to focus on starting up. “Birdie’s Batch” came from my mother’s nickname for me, Birdie, – a reference to my petite size.”
“My paternal grandfather came to the states from Le Havre, France. He got an apprenticeship at Shuler’s Bakery in Brooklyn and his career as a master baker took off from there. “My father followed in the same path and some of my earliest memories are of the Danish pastries he would make with laminated dough. My biggest influence was my maternal grandmother, my Nonna. She was the person who did all the cooking in the house we shared with her. My entire childhood was spent immersed in the wonders of food preparation, from planning a large family gathering to shopping for the freshest ingredients. My early memories are walking with her to the fish mongers, butchers and poultry stores. Meat was never bought in a supermarket; I would get to pick out my chicken, still clucking in its crate and watch as they would grab it–feet first—and butcher it in the back of the shop. My favorite stop would be the vegetable markets. Small, open-air storefronts that held crates of beautiful produce spilling out onto the sidewalk. The proprietor knew my Nonna well and would often hold the freshest, sweetest product for her approval. I truly believe this is where my produce obsession began.”
Sara Cann never dreamed of pursuing baking as a career. “ I recently read the newsletter from the founder of Rancho Gordo, a specialty bean company (did I mention I LOVE beans?), and he mentioned that he never intended to start a bean company. He just loved these heirloom beans and wanted to share it with others. I felt the same way about my mom’s jams. Opening one of her jars of jams is like being zapped into that season—whether it’s her peach jam and you immediately think of hot July afternoons or her apple jelly and you yearn for fall foliage.
“It’s so satisfying to build a community through a small business. Over the past two years, we’ve built a roster of repeat customers, and when we bake for the markets, it feels like we’re baking for extended family members. We love going to the markets and seeing these customers come back and get excited over our grandma’s apple cake or mom’s fantastic Linzer cookies. We just started the markets again, and we showed up in Piermont on a snowy, freezing morning, and seeing our customers come out and restock their jams was the best antidote to numb fingers. We originally started in June 2020, so I like to look at these early years as R&D time. I can’t believe how much we’ve done in what little time we have. Every Friday before market, we’re cursing ourselves at 2 am for not keeping to the original production list and adding on extra items in the spur of the moment. We need to stick to a leaner menu to be more efficient, but we find it hard to cut back. We’ll take things off, but remember a loyal customer always comes for that item and we end up putting it back on the list. “
Birdie’s Batch is a home-food processor, and Cann has a NYS license exemption (20c exemption) to do so. They are limited in what we can make in that category and they can only sell at open air markets, farms or online, but only in NYS.” I like to say I’m a full-time mom and part-time business owner. When I’m ready to flip that equation, I plan to hire a team and expand the number of markets we attend,” she says.
Their main menu is made up of family recipes, but when they introduce new products it’s after doing a series of recipe tests whether inspired from a meal they ate at a restaurant or a recipe they saw in a cookbook/magazine/etc.
“Our products are mostly packed in compostable cellophane bags and we design and print all the labels ourselves. We ship via UPS because it usually comes next day since we can only ship to NY customers. We make the products and ship that day so you can get the freshest tasting treats.
Writing newsletters has been a powerful tool for their success–not only does it introduce the Birdie’s Batch menu and market schedule, but it explains who they are and creates an emotional connection. Birdie’s Batch isn’t a business that’s solving a problem; it is serving an emotional need. “We hope to give people some comfort and nostalgia for those comfort carbs your grandma (or grandpa) made on Sunday mornings.”
“If I were to do it all over, we’d focus just on the jams/preserves. I’d apply for a 20c license and work out of a commercial kitchen so we could have a country-wide clientele and a nonperishable inventory. I’m not quite at a point where Birdie’s Batch could support my family. It has the potential, but I’m prioritizing raising my girls right now overextending my business. Eventually, I’d like to expand the team and the network of markets we attend. I’d like to ultimately move into a commercial kitchen space so I can increase our production to sell outside of New York.”
“The best advice I can give is to find a mentor—someone who has accomplished what you want to achieve. The Small Business Administration in your state has a lot of resources, including mentors, free business courses, and research. Just soak up whatever knowledge you can glean and then take the leap!”
How Two Home Bakers Did It
Ellenbeth Bakery in Chicago, IL is a small-batch, woman-owned, online bakery, selling pastries and cakes from their home base in Chicago. They ship their products all over the US. Begun in 2020 by Ellen Letchinger, a former decorative fabric agent and importer in her 60’s, in early 2020, The Bakery is thriving and growing at a nice pace. They specialize in Rugelach, mandel bread and a few rich pound cakes.
“There is purpose in each piece. To be shared, to be gifted, to be enjoyed! Challenging times make for changes that sometimes come out of the blue.
I also just started working for a not for profit, several days a week, in a bakery that supports at- risk youths. So in addition to my online business, I am now supporting change with younger people and needless to say keeping out of trouble!
“I started baking about 24 years ago when it became clear to me that I needed to have a place to shine on the food stage of my new household. My Mom and both my Grandmothers were working women. Early pioneers in stepping out there to have careers and make vibrant homes. Mimi, Lil and Fay worked hard all day, but from the well-worn, batter-splattered recipes I’ve collected, I know that each of them found time to do plenty of baking in their day. While they weren’t baking zealots, and I don’t come from a long line of bakers (nor do I have loving memories of being in the kitchen making cookies with my Grandmothers) there’s something about baking for others that keeps a tradition alive, passes down a story and brings us together. My Aunt Peggy, also a great baker, introduced me to the cakes made by Ina Pickney. To learn more about Ina click the links below:
Ina’s cakes opened me up to the notion that people would buy what they craved, no matter the indulgence or extravagance.
“Ellenbeth Bakery honors these women and gives me the chance to be a maker and sharer of small indulgences that bring us together and put smiles on our faces.
“Why start with the rugelach? The tradition around here has been for me to make rugelach for my family and friends around the Jewish New Year. Those that indulged a bit and those that are forever dieting shouted for more homemade goodness all year long. There’s a little bit of a bright new year in every bite, no matter what time of the year you eat one. Each one is handmade, rich in flavor to be savored. You might find yourself going back for another – it’s ok. I wish I could see your face when you taste one but I’m imagining a look of delight, satisfaction, and the glow of tradition. Making something is what drives me, making something full of love propels me and brings me joy. It’s all about making something for you that brings you joy too. There is purpose in each piece. To be shared, to be gifted, to be enjoyed.”