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Adventures in Starting a Chocolate Business

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#1 tammylc

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 08:26 AM

I've been posting about this is various different threads, but I thought I'd consolidate.

I finally got the call from the inspector today to schedule a time to come out and look at the kitchen I'm going to use so I can get my food establishment license. (My god, this would all be so much easier if I lived in Ohio!)

Anyway, she went on at some length about the need to get my recipes tested for water activity to make sure bacterial growth isn't a problem. I know there are some good books with detailed information on water activity, shelf life etc. Does anyone have any recommendations? Ideally something cheaper than Wybauw, but if that really is the best, then I'll have to suck up and pay the big bucks.

This isn't something I need to do before the inspection, but I expect it's something she's going to bug me about later. mrose - did you have to do any sort of testing or demonstration that your recipes were safe?

Other things I need to get in order for the inspection:
- be able to demonstrate that I know how to properly use the dishwashing/sanitizing setup
- have the equipment I'm going to use there (I need to find out if they have a food processor for me to use, or if I'm going to have to provide one)
- show that there is designated off-floor storage for my equipment and ingredients on site
- have a sample ingredient label showing what's in the chocolates

I'm out of town at the beginning of next week, so it'll be Thursday or Friday before all this happens. Hopefully it will go smoothly and I'll be in business!

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#2 ibjack

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 09:59 AM

I thought that California health codes were tough. I can't imagine having to do a study on water activity for the health dept. My general feeling is that the inspectors have very little practical knowledge of the foodservice industry, yet they are the make it or break it police. I think that the important part is to do your homework well before you meet with the inspector that way you know what to expect. I'm sure you have done this, but I wanted to add it just in case ther are others gettiing ready to get into their own business.

#3 tammylc

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 10:11 AM

I don't think a water activity test will actually be required for me to get a license. I think it was just something she was concerned about and strongly recommending.

This same inspector just made the front page of the local newspaper for citing a local chocolate shop that had a dish of candy conversation hearts out for people to sample from.

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#4 takomabaker

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 10:19 AM

It couldn't be as bad as Maryland. I have a friend who wants me to make some pies, pastries, and cookies for his restaurant. It is mostly a pub, so he doesn't want anything fancy, but he currently doesn't serve any desserts and wants to have a few things. We worked out a deal where I would provide some pies, cakes, and cookies a couple times a week. Maryland will not, under any circumstances, license a private kitchen for commercial food preparation. I have two kitchens in my home. I have a basement apartment that I no longer rent out, and I wanted to license it specifically to bake for my friend's restaurant. But I need to either rent out space from a commercial bakery, or work around my friend's restaurant's regular hours to use his (pitifully small) kitchen. I can't believe that they are so rigid!

#5 tammylc

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 10:27 AM

It couldn't be as bad as Maryland. I have a friend who wants me to make some pies, pastries, and cookies for his restaurant. It is mostly a pub, so he doesn't want anything fancy, but he currently doesn't serve any desserts and wants to have a few things. We worked out a deal where I would provide some pies, cakes, and cookies a couple times a week. Maryland will not, under any circumstances, license a private kitchen for commercial food preparation. I have two kitchens in my home. I have a basement apartment that I no longer rent out, and I wanted to license it specifically to bake for my friend's restaurant.  But I need to either rent out space from a commercial bakery, or work around my friend's restaurant's regular hours to use his (pitifully small) kitchen. I can't believe that they are so rigid!

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Michigan's laws are nearly the same. I believe you can have a kitchen in a private residence certified, but it has to meet all the requirements of a commercial kitchen in terms of venting and sanitation, dishwashing, etc, and there are specific requirements about it not being open to the rest of the house, etc. Not an option for my house, so I haven't looked into it much.

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#6 Allura

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 10:40 AM

- show that there is designated off-floor storage for my equipment and ingredients on site

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This reminded me of something. I have a friend whose family owns one of the fudge stores in Cape May, NJ (Laura's :biggrin: ). Apparently the inspector ALWAYS came on delivery day and would cite them for the pallet of ingredients sitting on the floor. :hmmm: Sounds like this inspector might be that type, so that's something you might want to be aware of.
Joanna G. Hurley
"Civilization means food and literature all round." -Aldous Huxley

#7 Carolyn Tillie

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 10:45 AM

It couldn't be as bad as Maryland. I have a friend who wants me to make some pies, pastries, and cookies for his restaurant. It is mostly a pub, so he doesn't want anything fancy, but he currently doesn't serve any desserts and wants to have a few things. We worked out a deal where I would provide some pies, cakes, and cookies a couple times a week. Maryland will not, under any circumstances, license a private kitchen for commercial food preparation. I have two kitchens in my home. I have a basement apartment that I no longer rent out, and I wanted to license it specifically to bake for my friend's restaurant.  But I need to either rent out space from a commercial bakery, or work around my friend's restaurant's regular hours to use his (pitifully small) kitchen. I can't believe that they are so rigid!

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Actually I think that is pretty standard country-wise. I don't know any state that will license a home kitchen. Several years ago, when I was doing private catering here in California, I made a deal with a local Masonic hall. They had a licensed kitchen that was rarely used on week days which was when I did my cooking and prep. It was a great work around and didn't cost me that much!

#8 tammylc

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 10:52 AM

Actually I think that is pretty standard country-wise. I don't know any state that will license a home kitchen. Several years ago, when I was doing private catering here in California, I made a deal with a local Masonic hall. They had a licensed kitchen that was rarely used on week days which was when I did my cooking and prep. It was a great work around and didn't cost me that much!

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I know Ohio has some sort of "cottage industry" law that allows small amounts of food to be produced at home for sale. For farmer's markets, etc. But I don't live in Ohio (although it's only 30 minutes away) so I don't know all the details.

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#9 mrose

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 12:11 PM

I was never asked to show anything about water activity. You could do a short study by leaving some chocolates out & check a piece a week to look for baterial growth. Same for items left in frig. Can you send me the link of that newspaper article. Sounds like inspector might have a bug where sun doesn't shine.
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#10 Desiderio

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 01:08 PM

In Colorado they might ask you to do something like that.Someone told me that I would have to send some of my chocolates ( each of the ones I wanted to sell ) to the dept of agricolture, now it requires a fee and isnt cheap either.But Patrick ( he used to have a chocolate business here in Colorado ) told me that he didnt have to do that and someone can do that for me for a cheaper fee , that is also part of the dept of Agr. etc.The rules are about the same here in Colorado , you could have your own home kitchen , if it is separeted from the rest of the house , has an external door for inspections ( they can not walk thru a private house ) have all commercila equipment , 3 sinks , vinal washable walls and floors, you can have it if you hvae the money etc.A friend of mine told me though, that if the business gets big enough for me to rent or have my onw kitchen , its much better buy a place that is already commercila etc, becauce whe its time to resell the house you might not get all the money you got into it ( not everyone is looking for a commercial kitchen in their basement right? :-P ).
Just make sure you know your stuff , be at the kitchen in advance so you can kinda have the feeling for everyting and organize yourself, the rest will be fine.
Good Luck :biggrin:
Vanessa

#11 Rhubarb

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 02:51 PM

Yeah, most of those regulations and such are the same here in Massachusetts. State administration (and "interpretation") of federal guidelines, I guess. The Wybauw book is a great investment but I wouldn't get it if you're just concerned about water activity. He lists the water activity levels for each recipe, but unless you're making the exact same recipes, you wouldn't know for sure. The testing is to demonstrate that your product is "non potentially hazardous" and on the same level as a brownie or something. Leaving your product out for several weeks should give you an idea of whether or not it's prone to bacterial contamination. If it doesn't undergo major changes in taste/consistency within, say six weeks, it's probably in the ballpark. It's not super-expensive to get testing done, but you'd want to feel good about the formula before you do, so you don't end up doing it twice. I broke my recipes down into five categories (alcohol, no alcohol, infused, etc) and paid $40 each, I think. The local Dept. of Agriculture, or a state food safety website should be able to refer you to a lab.
Interesting to note that at no time did the inspector ask to see my test results. I think a lot of people assume that if it's "candy" it's safe.

#12 K8memphis

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 04:37 PM

Actually I think that is pretty standard country-wise. I don't know any state that will license a home kitchen. Several years ago, when I was doing private catering here in California, I made a deal with a local Masonic hall. They had a licensed kitchen that was rarely used on week days which was when I did my cooking and prep. It was a great work around and didn't cost me that much!

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I know Ohio has some sort of "cottage industry" law that allows small amounts of food to be produced at home for sale. For farmer's markets, etc. But I don't live in Ohio (although it's only 30 minutes away) so I don't know all the details.

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It's so not standard country-wise. Not even state wide. I mean if I lived somewhere other than Shelby County, while scattering rose petals I would gleefully jump through all the hoops. "They" say that you have to be zoned commercial. I wanted to put a modular unit on the back of my property built to code. "They" said no way. My neighbors don't care.

Ohio and Kentucky and Iowa at least are 'easy' states. Ohio is beautiful for this.

Even if I did everything to satisfy the state of Tennessee including a college course on sanitation & food handling, (and I did not live in this county), I could not make cheesecake. They want you to be educated enough to know how to handle it but God forbid you use that education. It's beyond frustrating.

And the greatest irony is that I've worked in a zillion commercial kitchens. The overall cleanliness was no where near what it should be. You are on your honor working with food. I mean if you are talking while you are preparing food enough dna gets out there for enhancing an episode of CSI. The inspector can ding you for this & that and whatever. If someplace is outrageously gross that's another issue. But so many many places have huge hazards and are just plain dirty but yet they keep a strangle hold on small timers. I'd gladly pay the fees and jump the hoops.

Edited by K8memphis, 09 February 2007 - 04:39 PM.


#13 tammylc

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Posted 09 February 2007 - 05:08 PM

Yeah, most of those regulations and such are the same here in Massachusetts.  State administration (and "interpretation") of federal guidelines, I guess.  The Wybauw book is a great investment but I wouldn't get it if you're just concerned about water activity.  He lists the water activity levels for each recipe, but unless you're making the exact same recipes, you wouldn't know for sure.  The testing is to demonstrate that your product is "non potentially hazardous" and on the same level as a brownie or something.  Leaving your product out for several weeks should give you an idea of whether or not it's prone to bacterial contamination.  If it doesn't undergo major changes in taste/consistency within, say six weeks, it's probably in the ballpark.  It's not super-expensive to get testing done, but you'd want to feel good about the formula before you do, so you don't end up doing it twice.  I broke my recipes down into five categories (alcohol, no alcohol, infused, etc) and paid $40 each, I think.  The local Dept. of Agriculture, or a state food safety website should be able to refer you to a lab.
  Interesting to note that at no time did the inspector ask to see my test results.  I think a lot of people assume that if it's "candy" it's safe.

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I've already had some informal testing, in that a couple of my neighbors/customers are still eating chocolates that I made for Halloween, with no ill effects or apparent mold, etc. The only change has been some drying out, but that's to be expected.

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#14 readingrilke

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Posted 10 February 2007 - 04:03 PM

Hello!

I was actually been debating with myself to do a thread along the same lines, since I hope to open up a chocolate boutique in the late fall.

You beat me to the punch!

I wish you all the best and much success!

#15 Kerry Beal

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Posted 10 February 2007 - 04:14 PM

Hello!

I was actually been debating with myself to do a thread along the same lines, since I hope to open up a chocolate boutique in the late fall.

You beat me to the punch!

I wish you all the best and much success!

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I suspect there is enough room on eG for two threads about starting a chocolate business, especially since your venture sounds like it might be quite different than Tammy's and may raise some other interesting questions. So tell us what you have done so far towards your boutique? Will you be making all your own chocolate, selling chocolate from others? I assume it is to be a storefront?

#16 readingrilke

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Posted 10 February 2007 - 04:32 PM

Hello!

I was actually been debating with myself to do a thread along the same lines, since I hope to open up a chocolate boutique in the late fall.

You beat me to the punch!

I wish you all the best and much success!

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I suspect there is enough room on eG for two threads about starting a chocolate business, especially since your venture sounds like it might be quite different than Tammy's and may raise some other interesting questions. So tell us what you have done so far towards your boutique? Will you be making all your own chocolate, selling chocolate from others? I assume it is to be a storefront?

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Hello!

I've been developing a brand concept, putting together a menu, finding a location, raising funds, pulling out what little hair I have (little hair by choice....mind you!), etc.

It will be a storefront with a large production 'laboratorie' for wholesale and retail.

I'll start up a thread soon! I don't want to piggyback on someone elses thread, but I have been wondering, I loved "Mel's New Bakery" thread, and am wondering what is the "Etiquette" about posting about what is essentially our (my partner and I) business, i.e. shameless self promotion, etc...

Anyhow, I look forward to reading this thread to pick up good hints and tips.

Best Regards!

#17 tammylc

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Posted 11 February 2007 - 07:36 PM

So, I'm going to call the inspector tomorrow and put off my inspection until the week of the 19th. I'll be in Chicago through Wednesday, and just won't have time to get all my stuff together in time for an inspection on Thursday. I don't want to mess it up and fail, cause that would suck. Better to take a little more time and get everything all set.

I did some pricing and time calculations off of my Valentine's Day production, to help me figure out my margins, etc.

Things I learned:
- I've seen people warn newbie chocolatiers here to be sure to take into account packaging costs in your pricing, and that's no joke! For 420 pieces, my food costs were $107, and my packaging costs were about $50 - nearly a third of my overall costs!
- There was huge variability in my per piece costs. Food costs per piece ranged from 16 cents to 44 cents.
- I spent about 24 hours on production, spread out over 4 days. I need to figure out how I'm going to compress that when I actually get out and start using rented space. I think I'll be more efficient, because when I have five or fifteen minutes to wait for something to happen I won't be checking email, I'll be washing dishes, etc. But it took more time than I expected. Partly, I think, because I had such a variety of different kinds of fillings - various flavors of regular ganache are much faster to create than more complex fillings, and I need to think about the balance of those in any particular collection.

And now I have to assemble a shopping list of things I need to buy - little pieces of equipment etc that I've been using at home and need to get an extra copy of to keep at the kitchen.

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#18 alligande

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Posted 12 February 2007 - 07:37 AM

Anyway, she went on at some length about the need to get my recipes tested for water activity to make sure bacterial growth isn't a problem.  I know there are some good books with detailed information on water activity, shelf life etc.  Does anyone have any recommendations?  Ideally something cheaper than Wybauw, but if that really is the best, then I'll have to suck up and pay the big bucks.

This isn't something I need to do before the inspection, but I expect it's something she's going to bug me about later.  mrose - did you have to do any sort of testing or demonstration that your recipes were safe?

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Here in Rhode Island any food products being wholesaled have to be tested and have an ingredient label that was anayleised ( I cant spell today) by the university when I got my license (for cakes) the inspector and I had the conversation that went along the lines of don't start selling at wholsesale your life will suck! A business in the same building has one product "stuffies" as it is very expensive to bring new items on line and at the moment she does not want to invest.

#19 readingrilke

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Posted 12 February 2007 - 06:03 PM

Hello Alligande,

No worries about the spelling! Have you ever read "Heat?" It basically labels all chefs unable to spell or write, etc.

I was wondering the same thing, I think, in regards to your post. I would think that it would be rather difficult, unless you are in a place like NYC, to start off doing only wholesale?

While planning my own business I included a retail component. I think they can drive each other, people shop your retail store, then you can use that to drive your wholesale business. Afterall, I think it would be hard to get a grocery or gourmet speciality store to take your chocolates without some evidence that there is a demand for your product. Then again, I could be completely wrong, businesses like 'Chocolate Moderne' could be the way to go. Another great example of the wholesale to retail model is Oakley Sunglasses.

Just a thought!



Anyway, she went on at some length about the need to get my recipes tested for water activity to make sure bacterial growth isn't a problem.  I know there are some good books with detailed information on water activity, shelf life etc.  Does anyone have any recommendations?  Ideally something cheaper than Wybauw, but if that really is the best, then I'll have to suck up and pay the big bucks.

This isn't something I need to do before the inspection, but I expect it's something she's going to bug me about later.  mrose - did you have to do any sort of testing or demonstration that your recipes were safe?

View Post


Here in Rhode Island any food products being wholesaled have to be tested and have an ingredient label that was anayleised ( I cant spell today) by the university when I got my license (for cakes) the inspector and I had the conversation that went along the lines of don't start selling at wholsesale your life will suck! A business in the same building has one product "stuffies" as it is very expensive to bring new items on line and at the moment she does not want to invest.

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#20 tammylc

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Posted 16 February 2007 - 01:36 PM

Just got back from an meeting with a potential wholesale customer, one I'd be absolutely thrilled to have carry my pieces. The meeting went really well. No decision for a while yet, but I'm really optimistic.

And I need to follow up on another potential wholesale customer, a little lounge places that I visited in Chicago last week. One of their specialties is chocolate, and I had some with me, so I brought them down with a card for them to sample. They expressed some interest, so now I just need to follow up and close the deal.

My inspection is scheduled for Tuesday!


Edited for spelling and grammar.

Edited by tammylc, 16 February 2007 - 01:37 PM.

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#21 readingrilke

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Posted 16 February 2007 - 05:26 PM

Just got back from an meeting with a potential wholesale customer, one I'd be absolutely thrilled to have carry my pieces.  The meeting went really well.  No decision for a while yet, but I'm really optimistic.

And I need to follow up on another potential wholesale customer, a little lounge places that I visited in Chicago last week.  One of their specialties is chocolate, and I had some with me, so I brought them down with a card for them to sample.  They expressed some interest, so now I just need to follow up and close the deal.

My inspection is scheduled for Tuesday!


Edited for spelling and grammar.

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That's awesome! I was wondering. Did you make up your own formula for figuring out how to price your items wholesale or are you using a mark up or a margin equation. I am having a hard time figuring out how to price my stuff to wholesalers.

Anyhow, hope it works out for you!

#22 tammylc

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Posted 16 February 2007 - 05:47 PM

I'm mostly just winging it. I know what my material costs are, and I'm starting to get a better sense of how long it takes, so I can figure out the labor costs. And then there's overhead - space rental, equipment, fees. Plus I know what my target market charges, and thus some sense of what they can pay at wholesale, so I'm making a determination based on all of that. I need to run through a whole bunch of recipes tonight to figure out which are widely divergent from the base wholesale price I'm playing with.

Tammy's Tastings

Creating unique food and drink experiences

eGullet Foodblogs #1 and #2
Dinner for 40


#23 tammylc

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 09:45 AM

I'm proud to report that I'm the shiny new owner of a business establishment license! Woo-hoo!

It wasn't even that bad. After talking to the inspector on the phone and hearing the stories from the Main Dish Kitchen owners, I was really nervous. But it was fine. And now I don't need to be reinspected for 2 years.

My first day (evening, really) working in the space will be Friday, when I'll be making some chocolates for the Anniversary Party/Open House event Main Dish Kitchen is having on Saturday. Mostly to give away, although I'll make up a few boxes to (hopefully) sell as well.

Now I just need to decide what flavors to make.

Tammy's Tastings

Creating unique food and drink experiences

eGullet Foodblogs #1 and #2
Dinner for 40


#24 Tweety69bird

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 11:15 AM

Congratulations tammylc!! Best of luck, and keep us posted on how it's going.
Don't waste your time or time will waste you - Muse

#25 sote23

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 01:18 PM

congratulations tammy!!!!!

I had a quick question. I'm looking at a commercial kitchen tomorrow, and was wondering what I should look for?

Luis

#26 tammylc

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 02:21 PM

congratulations tammy!!!!!

I had a quick question. I'm looking at a commercial kitchen tomorrow, and was wondering what I should look for? 

Luis

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Depends what you want to use it for! My most important criteria was finding a place that was affordable, since paying much for rental could quickly eliminate any profits I might make. We worked out a profit sharing arrangement, which makes it low risk for me and gives them and incentive to help me grow my business!

You will want some designated space to store your supplies, so there are no conflicts about what belongs to who, and your materials aren't ending up on the floor or something. Obviously you'd want to be sure that everything in the space was in good working order. You'll need to have a conversation about sharing equipment - are you bringing all of your own equipment, or can you use theirs? I'm sharing sheet pans and a food processor and things like that, but needed to bring my own small saucepans, as they just don't have the size that I need.

Those are a few ideas to get you started. Hope that helps!

Tammy's Tastings

Creating unique food and drink experiences

eGullet Foodblogs #1 and #2
Dinner for 40


#27 reenicake

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 02:26 PM

congratulations and best of luck!

#28 sote23

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 11:12 PM

congratulations tammy!!!!!

I had a quick question. I'm looking at a commercial kitchen tomorrow, and was wondering what I should look for? 

Luis

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Depends what you want to use it for! My most important criteria was finding a place that was affordable, since paying much for rental could quickly eliminate any profits I might make. We worked out a profit sharing arrangement, which makes it low risk for me and gives them and incentive to help me grow my business!

You will want some designated space to store your supplies, so there are no conflicts about what belongs to who, and your materials aren't ending up on the floor or something. Obviously you'd want to be sure that everything in the space was in good working order. You'll need to have a conversation about sharing equipment - are you bringing all of your own equipment, or can you use theirs? I'm sharing sheet pans and a food processor and things like that, but needed to bring my own small saucepans, as they just don't have the size that I need.

Those are a few ideas to get you started. Hope that helps!

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thanks,
that does help. How did you work out the storage of the chocolates? Do you mainly do enrobed or molded pieces?

#29 Desiderio

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 11:30 PM

COngratulations Tammy!!! Its nice to know wastn that bad at all , but I know you were ready for it, did your homeworks :biggrin:
One question I still have is , did you had to file tha food handling business license for that as well, I mean I know the inspector gives you the livcense after the inspection , but on the package I downloaded from the web ( for COlorado ) has a lot of stuff that doesnt apply to my case , its more for someone that is moving to a kitchen full time and owns a restaurant type .DId you still have to file those as well?

Thank you and Good luck with your first day as business owner :biggrin:
Vanessa

#30 tammylc

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Posted 21 February 2007 - 05:20 AM

COngratulations Tammy!!! Its nice to know wastn that bad at all , but I know you were ready for it, did your homeworks  :biggrin:
One question I still have is , did you had to file tha food handling business license  for that as well, I mean I know the inspector gives you the livcense after the inspection , but on the package I downloaded from the web ( for COlorado ) has a lot of stuff that doesnt apply to my case , its more for someone that is moving to a kitchen full time and owns a restaurant type .DId you still have to file those as well?

Thank you and Good luck with your first day as business owner  :biggrin:

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Michigan differentiates between different kinds of establishments. I am a retail food establishment (which lets me sell both wholesale and retail), but not a retail food *service* establishment. I'm guessing that the food handling license you describe probably refers to service establishments. Call whoever the licensing agency is in CO, they should be able to help you figure out what you need to do. Also, there's probably some sort of local small business agency that can answer questions.

To the best of my knowledge, I have now met all my state and county requirements.

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