All those permits and licenses add up, for the record. I had some money to get going, but I also wanted to have food liability insurance for my bakery. Neither that nor the Cottage Food Operation permit are inexpensive, and I knew I also need some of my funds for ingredients and materials for the actual bakery. Kickstarter is a popular way for startups to get funding, but it didn’t quite fit my situation. Instead, I turned to gofundme.
How much should I ask for? That’s the first question. I considered the costs of the CFO permit and the liability insurance, the fees the site would take, the cost of getting business cards printed, and then the costs of the “rewards” I was offering – I wanted to take the model of Kickstarter and offer merchandise to those who were contributing as a way of showing my gratitude. My brother had designed my logo, so I used Zazzle to make magnets and tote bags. Smaller donations received a voucher for a dozen free cookies, the next level got the magnets, and the larger donations got the tote bags.
I was amazed and humbled by how quickly I not only met, but also exceeded my goal. I truly have incredible and supportive friends, and I’ll never forget any of them. I was touched by every donation, small and large, and not to get all mushy but I’m still touched whenever a friend tells me how proud they are, or how excited they are, by my ventures. Not long ago, a woman in the transit tunnel saw my cupcake carrier and asked about it – and then out of nowhere, as she rushed off toward her bus, she wished me well with my business. I was floored, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget her. Again with the mush, but that random woman will never know how much that little moment meant to me.
Once the bakery has all the licenses and permits to be a real business and is approved by the Department of Agriculture, it feels like a done deal, but it’s not quite done yet. You can be, sure. You don’t have to have food liability insurance, and you don’t have to do any festivals/fairs/markets. But getting the insurance is smart. One of my biggest supporters told me quietly that he hoped I was looking into it, and was relieved to hear I’d already gotten advice to do so. The company I was pointed toward is called FLIP, and they are designed for folks like me who will be doing festivals and farmers markets – and Cottage Food Operations. Perfect. They were super easy to sign up with, and as far as I can tell, they’re reasonably priced. I found them on a forum of other small business owners, and they were recommended by another food vendor business.
When a food vendor signs up to have a booth at a festival, so far in my experience (2 whole festivals!), you have to have a certificate from your insurance company naming the host of the festival as an additionally insured entity. I found it super easy to do this with FLIP, despite having no idea what I was doing, so that was nice. It was also free, so yay!
What’s not free, but also required when you do a festival, is a one-day food service permit from the King County Public Health Department. Here’s where things get super weird and confusing, and I still don’t have them ironed out.
My first festival was in May 2015. I went to the King County website to get my one-day permit, and panicked a little because it was just over a week before the festival, but the site said I needed to do this at least 14 days before the event. This permit is $55. I guess I got lucky, because a couple of days later I received an email with my permit attached. Then I panicked again because the guidelines included with my permit said I needed an insulated cooler, at least 5 gallons, with “a continuous flow spigot” (not the kind with a button you have to push) for a hand-washing station. I got one that wasn’t insulated and hoped it would do, because for some reason, every insulated cooler 5 gallons or more has a button spigot. I also needed a bucket to catch the dirty water, which was easy enough. I was all set. I was the only food vendor at this festival besides a vegan food truck, and it was pretty tiny. I’d been told there may be health inspectors, but there weren’t.
My second festival was for the 4th of July. This one was bigger, and there were loads of food vendors. I applied for my one-day permit in late May, and as July drew closer I began to worry that I hadn’t gotten it yet. I called the department and they were baffled that I was trying to follow up, saying I wouldn’t get a permit until they inspected things. What? What was there to inspect? It’s a temporary location… and the festival coordinators need my permit before I can even participate… AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH!
So there we are, days before the event. The coordinators are asking me for my permit, telling me I’m the only one who hasn’t turned one in yet, I’m freaking out…. it’s a good time. I braced myself and called the department of health again. I tell them my situation. The woman I’m talking to seems much nicer than the last one. I gave her my company name, and next thing I know – she’s hung up on me! Um? Am I so horrid?
I call back… I get another woman. She tells me, oh, that must have been Gloria. She gets my number and tells me Gloria will call me right back. No explanation for the sudden disconnect. Oooookaaaaaay.
A few minutes later I got a call from a nice man named Todd. He actually looked up my business, and he says, “I see you have a Cottage Food Operation permit. That means you can do festivals and markets. You don’t need anything else.” Me: “Wait, really? Because I did another festival a couple of months ago and they happily took my money and gave me a permit.” Todd: “Oh, I’m sorry about that. We’ll refund your money for this one. As long as you just stick to what’s on your permit, you’re fine. You don’t need anything else.” Me: “Todd. You have made my day.”
I sent a copy of my CFO permit to the festival coordinators and told them what Todd said, and they were happy, and I was happy, and I went about my business.
Festival day: a health inspector shows up. She tells me I don’t have a bucket (oops, forgot my bucket!), and my hand-washing cooler isn’t insulated, so I could be shut down. But… the nice people at the booth next to me said I can use theirs, so she’ll let it go this time. “But I was told my CFO permit covers everything, and I don’t actually need this additional permit.” “No,” she says, “for events, you do. And what we really care about is the hand-washing station, so you need to make sure you get that insulated, and you have your bucket.” Then she hands me the one-day permit that I had applied for in May (and I still got a partial refund, according to my bank).
I’m so confused.
And was almost shut down?!
I’m leaving my office day job soon, and I will be looking into joining a local farmers market that happens on Wednesday afternoons. Perhaps my biggest hurdle with this will be how the heck I’m going to get my table and canopy there and set up by myself since it’s a weekday, so my boyfriend will be at work… but I have some ideas. In any case, I suppose in researching how to get into a farmers market, I will (hopefully) solve the mystery of the permits! I know there are permits for the farmers markets (because $55 every single week would be pretty prohibitive!), so I’ll be looking into that one… though of course if ol’ Todd was right and I don’t really need the additional paperwork, I’ll be a much happier camper!
If anyone has any questions at all about this whole process, please feel free to ask! I think I may be done with this particular course of blog posts… next time will likely be back to the good stuff: food! 🙂