What a whirlwind! I had my first market on June 12 and brought 30 pies with me. In about an hour and a half I was sold out. If you have followed me up to this point, you know my plan this summer is to sell at the farmers market as a sole proprietor cottage food vendor, and grow from there. In one of my past posts I wrote about how to get started as a cottage food vendor. Since then I have figured out buying ingredients, tables, figuring out my tent situation and recently decided to go through PayPal for credit card purchases and invoicing (they sure make it easy!). I also made 30 pies the day before and morning of the market—it was insane, but in the best way possible. My little town is the best, and I appreciate those who supported me. I’m small and super local right now, and if my name gets out there it will be by word of mouth at this point.
The other vendors at the market were just awesome as well. St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store was the featured non-profit, and they were so supportive! They had a credenza left at their booth that didn’t sell and they gave it to me because they thought it would be perfect in the back of my booth. There is also a bakery/restaurant in town called Taste of Paris (such a great place), and the manager/daughter of the owner, who was in my high school graduating class, came out and bought some pies from me. The local support was welcoming and full of encouragement—I am full of gratitude, and once again, I feel as though I am lucky to have had this experience.
What I learned at my first market day
Making 30 pies is not easy! If you read through some of my recipes, you will see that I don’t take shortcuts with my pies. Like I wrote above, I’m small—one person small—and I can only produce what I can right now. I also want the pies to be fresh so I don’t want to make them days ahead of time. My plan right now is to produce what I can, and when I sell out, that’s it. As I figure this out, I know I will produce larger quantities, but it is essential that the quality is at my high standards.
I also learned that folks really liked the smaller sizes. Next time around I will do more of those for sure!
I was so busy that I took one photo. Not good. I rely on social media to get my name out there, and when I don’t show what I’m doing I’m losing out. I need to make sure to get some pictures of my booth and pies next time.
There are folks out there that are as passionate about pie as me. I had so much fun talking with customers about recipes, all-butter crusts, sour cherries, bourbon, pecans and everything else pie. I post my recipes because I want everyone to make, eat and share real deal pies.
Growing pains—I’m gonna be feeling them.
And you can go to the moon
But if you want something to change
You gotta change your life
And take your time
It just takes time
It just takes time
It just takes time
Hard work and your time
My next post will get more into the nitty gritty of cottage food/small business stuff, but I wanted to write down my experience while it was still fresh in my head.
What an overall awesome experience, I can’t wait to be back on June 26!
I have had two market days since my last post, and now that these are done, I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my surrounding community.
It all started with my first major hick-up as a cottage food vendor, and it was out of my control like so much of life is. Right now, I am only selling at my local farmer’s market every other week. I’m a tiny operation—I bake out of my kitchen, making around 35-40 pies total per market day, and let me tell ya, that probably doesn’t seem like a lot to many of you, but homemade pies are pretty intense to make. There are multiple steps, with various fillings and it can get overwhelming quick. I bake my pies the day before and the morning of, and when I received the first email about the possibility of the market not opening on June 26 due to severe weather, I had to think through what I should do.
The 5 stages of being a vendor when the farmer’s market is cancelled (especially when you have perishable goods and this is the only place you sell!)
The weather is fine, this will pass. I’m sure it will still open and I won’t be stuck with 35 pies after baking for two days straight.
2.) Panic Nope, the market is not opening, it’s official. What to do? So many pies, so many freaking pies! Maybe we can have a pie throwing competition?!
Looks like I’m just gonna have to eat all of these pies.
Well, sh*t, it’s all good. I mean, I’m sure Tom will be fine with me eating all of these pies and gaining 50 pounds.
5.) Let’s make this happen Alright, seriously, I need to get rid of these pies. Let’s figure out a plan B.
My new plan was to post it on my Lakebilly Pies and the local lake community Facebook pages. I figured I would either deliver them or have folks come by my house to pick them up, and if I didn’t get anyone wanting to buy pies, I would find a local homeless shelter and drop them off and take the loss. The response from my community was awesome—what I especially loved was meeting neighbors that I had never met before, and that they wanted to support me by buying pies. I also had customers from the week before, my work colleagues and friends all buy pies. It took about an hour, but once again I had a sell out day, and I am so thankful that I had the support of everyone to make this happen. How cool is that!
After it was all said and done, I felt love for my community, friends and family. I have such awesome people in my corner. I grew up in Sylvan Lake, and I’m back because it is a special place to live—this experience reinforced that for me.
July 3 Market Day
This past Tuesday I had another market day. I’m excited to report that I sold out in 90 minutes, even after upping the amount of pies. With my preorders I ended up making 44 total, and I had a blast handing out samples and talking to customers about what I do. Pie is nostalgic for a lot of people—I love when they try a sample, look at my ingredients and are excited to have a legit homemade pie. I wouldn’t say that pies are a dying art, but it’s not easy to find a good one for sale, and my customers recognize this.
You can’t start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart.
I am getting more and more excited about this endeavor every day. At this point, it’s exactly what I need in my life, and I’m excited to see where this journey is going to lead us. If it keeps up like this, Tom and I are going to have to sit down and hash out what’s next for Lakebilly—I want to be able to provide pies for everyone I can, selling out is a good problem to have, but I’m hoping I can up my production a bit more.
I’m not sure anyone will care about our story, but in a world where we have to navigate through a lot of daily bullshit sometimes it’s nice to read about a love story that actually works. That, and we are trying to start a business—so that’s something. It’s strange to put this in writing, and even weirder to write about myself, but for those of you who are interested, I think Tom and I have an entertaining tale. One of friends who reconnected and started dating years after losing touch.
I don’t typically write about these types of things, but it was fun to document, and maybe you’ll enjoy reading about us. This is not as much about building my pie business, but instead, it’s about a love story and where the decisions we have made together have led us.
When Tom and I met, we were in graduate school in the Sports Administration program at Valparaiso University, a tiny liberal arts school in Northwest Indiana. I loved my time at Valpo, a school known by many for Bryce Drew’s last second shot during their ’98 NCAA March Madness appearance. As an athlete myself, it’s all I ever knew of the school before being recruited to play there. They upset Ole Miss and went on to win their second round game against Florida State before losing in the Sweet Sixteen to Rhode Island. “The Shot” is famous enough that it gets replayed every year during the Men’s March Madness Tournament and Axe Body Spray parodied it in one of their commercials a few years back. It was something about Axe Apollo and an astronaut showing up on the court after the shot was made and stealing the show—it’s stupid, I know—but shows that this moment in time was a pretty big deal for college basketball. Writing this much about Axe Body Spray makes me feel like a dumbass, which I probably am.
Valparaiso University is much more than that Bryce Drew shot. It’s a school that motivates its students to care about their surroundings and the world, and I met a lot of really good people there. As college is for many, it was a place for me to figure myself out. At times I was mature for my age, other times I was very, VERY stupid, but I was able to navigate living away from home, and Valpo was a relatively safe place for me to learn to do so. I was lucky enough to get a full-ride athletic scholarship to a school that would not have been an affordable option for me. I’m 6’2” so that doesn’t hurt in the volleyball world. I also met one of my closest friends, Marion, in undergrad. We were teammates, roommates, and goofballs. I bring her up because I wanted an excuse to show this picture of Marion, I’m sure I’ll be writing more about our friendship in the future.
I was all about volleyball, had just finished as a player, and was transitioning to a graduate assistant volleyball coach for the program I once played for. Tom was also a graduate assistant—an athletic trainer. He came from northern Maryland, and Indiana was a bit of a culture shock to him. We didn’t know each other that first year, but early on in the summer a mutual friend invited us to the Indiana Dunes to hang out at the beach for the day. I was moving out of the house I had lived in for the first year of the program, and brought up that I needed a new roommate. Tom mentioned that he could use one too, and just like that we decided to find an apartment together.
I’ve always been spontaneous, but was especially so in my early 20’s—who wasn’t at that age—but I could also be a lot to handle, and I had a hell of an attitude when pushed. Looking back, it’s no surprise that Tom and I decided to become roommates on a whim, and from there friends. I was curious about Tom, he was a quirky dude, and piqued my interest—I always liked folks with quick wits and strange senses of humor—and Tom fit that mould. It was early on as roommates that we went to a show in Indy together. I think it was night three that he asked me to go with him to see a band he liked called Gil Mantera’s Party Dream.
Get up, stand up, be a soul commander.
He told me years later that he realized halfway down to Indy I might not be down for this type of thing. Spoiler alert, I was, and we had a blast. It was a ridiculous show, and I drank, laughed and danced my ass off. It’s too bad that Gil and the Ultimate Donny don’t perform anymore, I think folks started to take them too seriously or something.
We lived in the Maison Royale apartments in a two bedroom walkup. Not sure why anyone would consider these apartments royal homes, but hell, it was a great place for two students in a graduate program, and we had a silly, fun year together. I used to drink beer with an old man at the community pool almost every day when it was warm—those were good times—and he supplied the beer so even better. This is when Tom and I became friends. Not friends with benefits, and no messing around on the side, real deal friends. We got a cat together, and named her Marzipan—she’s named after the Homestar Runner character not the almond dessert. Even today, Homestar makes me crack up, I especially love the Pumpkin Carve-nival episode.
By the end of our Master’s program, it was time for Tom to go back to Maryland, and I stayed in Valpo for a bit with a new roommate, my buddy Carolyn. Carolyn now has a much older Marzipan, she’s still kickin’! I also decided that I didn’t want to be a volleyball coach anymore and stumbled into the nonprofit sector. Up until this point, volleyball was an enormous part of my life. I had put so many years into it, and I was knowledgable, but tired of it, and I wanted a change. Little did I know, Tom also changed careers in Maryland. He no longer wanted to be an athletic trainer and switched to being an operations manager for a company that put on large-scale running events, lacrosse and beach volleyball tournaments.
I always wonder what would have happened if we dated while roommates in school. Would we have worked? I don’t think so. We were both immature and headstrong individuals.
Soon after Tom left for home, I moved to Chicago for an Irish bar owner who was 15 years older than me—yeah, I know what you are thinking. He was fun and hilarious, but as you might guess, too old for me, and it only lasted for a few years and fizzled out. I don’t regret a second of that relationship, it was right for me at that time in my life. I also really liked that he was a small business owner. My years after dating the Irish bar owner were a wild ride, but also a time when I needed to act stupid in the city with my friends. I’m going to fast forward through that part of the story, believe me when I say it’s best for all.
Five years had gone by from the time Tom moved back to Maryland and when we reconnected. We hadn’t talked since Valpo, and I didn’t have his cell number, we only had Facebook as a way to communicate. I was working at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, and I traveled all over the country to meet with alumni and organize gatherings for them. Sometimes Tom would enter my thoughts, even after years of not talking. I specifically remember going to a show that was featuring a band made of robots, and thinking, Tom would like this. I guess that was enough of a reason to message him before a work trip to D.C. I was organizing an alumni outing at a Nationals vs. Cubs game, and thought, what the hell, I should ask Tom to come. I wasn’t expecting anything out of it, I just wanted to catch up with my old friend. So I reached out, and he replied. He had a big race coming up so he couldn’t make the game but wanted to find another way to hang out. We set up a brunch meet-up before I had to leave for the airport.
It was a day game, and afterwards I met a friend who had moved to the area a year before. I stayed out all night drinking in D.C., and looking back, I was a hot mess during that time period. I didn’t have his cell phone number, the hotel was an hour away, and I was supposed to meet Tom at 9 a.m. Thank goodness my friend was willing to drive an hour out of their way to drop me off. I was meeting Tom in the lobby, and I can only imagine what I must have looked like when he saw me roll up. Strangely enough, it was from this moment that something changed between us. We ate and caught up at a diner by the airport, it was fun and goofy, just like it had been back in the day. After he dropped me off at the airport we kept in touch over the summer, and I started to think, if only he wasn’t so far, maybe we would work. Then that Halloween he texted me that he wanted to come visit over New Year’s, and I of course, said that he should.
So my bud, Lauren, and I planned a night out in Chicago. Tom and I didn’t care where we were or who was playing, I can’t even remember most of that night, but I do remember Tom kissing me for the first time at midnight. How cliché can you get, I know, but it was the damn cutest thing ever.
We spent the rest of the weekend watching Tim and Eric and doing stupid touristy stuff in Chicago. It was fantastic. I found out that Tom always had a thing for me, and even though I may not have understood it, I always had a thing for him as well.
I moved to Maryland less than 6 months later—I told you I could be spontaneous. I landed a job working for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, packed my bags and headed east. I went from my cute apartment in the Old Irving neighborhood to a duplex in the middle of nowhere northern Maryland. Our neighbor was a goofball and liked to collect junk and leave it in his yard. Our other neighbors had goats that ran around the back and a deer head hung in the tree, it was an interesting transition for me.
After the lease was up, we moved to an awesome little house outside of Baltimore in Howard County. It was in the middle of the woods on environmentally protected land right on the border of the Patapsco State Park. Our nights consisted of grilling, listening to music and hanging on our deck. We loved that place. The owners of that house owned a ton of land back there, and when I asked if they would ever consider selling their little red cottage, they laughed. We knew then this was not a forever place for us, but we enjoyed it while we were there.
Then one day, an old work connection informed me about a job opening at a university in Chicago. I thought, why not try? MDA had recently closed a bunch of offices, and I was a bit worried about job security. Tom and I talked it over, and he encouraged me to go for it. He told me that he would move to Chicago with me if I landed the job. Even though I was really enjoying Maryland there were times that I missed Chicago, and if you haven’t guessed, I ended up applying and getting the job. Now it was his turn to be open-minded and spontaneous. This is why we work so well together, he was all about it. He liked his job, but didn’t love it, and this was an opportunity to do something else so he jumped in with both feet. I think that is pretty damn cool, a man who isn’t afraid to drop his successful job to check out a new city with his then serious girlfriend.
After being in the city for a bit we decided to make it official and get married. We took a road trip for our honeymoon. Started in Nashville, off to Gatlinburg, and finally Asheville, NC.
Afterwards, we started thinking about buying a house. Tom and I enjoyed living in the city, but he is a country boy at heart. I guess he missed the hanging deer head in the backyard or maybe the inner city pressure just became too much.
One day, while visiting my parents in Lake County we started to talk about a home that went up for sale in the neighborhood. I started to daydream about living in a cottage on the water, and when I brought it up to Tom, he was excited about the possibility as well. Sylvan Lake is a special place—it’s a lake community, but primarily middle class. I never dreamt that I would be able to own a house on the water, but with our combined incomes we could just barely make it work. The house was built in the 1930’s, we love vintage charm, and needs some cosmetic updates, but is in overall good shape. We’ve now been here for more than a year, and we LOVE lake life. It’s like being on vacation the second you come home from work. We have a pretty big yard and find ways to garden, canoe, fish, float in tubes, and the list goes on. We also have three insane cats. Sometimes we just sit in our hammock together and watch the bats fly over us at dusk, and there are owls that hang out in our yard and keep us up at a night. We want to take on bee keeping and get chickens in the near future. My parents live down the street, and it’s—mostly—fun to have them around. It’s true lakebilly living, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
12 years after first meeting and 7 years after that first kiss on New Year’s, I look back at our lives and our decisions to this point, and I think about how lucky we are. Tom is all about me being me, and I am all about him being him. We really talk to each other, and laugh a lot. If you end up with a guy like Tom, a warning, every Saturday you will wake up, come down the stairs, and 80’s wrestling will be on the TV. When I say every weekend, I mean it, and I love it and I love him. Tom is the Cream of the Crop.
When I say Tom is into wrestling, I actually mean he is obsessed. Currently, he is really into Smoky Mountain Wrestling which was out of Appalachia in the 90’s and was run by Jim Cornette. My wrestling knowledge has increased leaps and bounds since being with Tom. Wanna talk about Mid-South Wrestling? Yeah, I can hold my own in that conversation, bring it.
When we first arrived in Chicago I started up at Northeastern Illinois University and Tom was unemployed. He really likes hockey so when he arrived in the city he started volunteering at Chicago Steel games out by O’Hare Airport. Chicago Steel is a hockey team and members of the United States Hockey League (USHL). He also got a job doing beer tastings for a local beer distributor and took on a dog walking gig (he walked dogs during the polar vortex, no joke). He started to homebrew beer, and was a natural at it. He entered his first competition and one 3rd in his category at the Charlie Orr Memorial Chicago Cup Challenge.
Although moving to a new city with no job is scary it also gave him the freedom to figure out what he wanted to do. He mentioned that he really liked homebrewing and doing the beer tastings, and I encouraged him to find a way into the beer industry.
Sometimes life introduces you to truly good people. Our friend, Jim, is one of those people, and so is his wife Nancy. Jim was my coworker at Northeastern, an avid home brewer and National ranked judge in the Beer Judge Certification Program. He knew me from work, and when I told him that my boyfriend was looking for a job in the beer industry he connected Tom with his friend, Bob, from his homebrewers club. Bob was the manager for a malt warehouse in South Holland, Ill., and had an opening for a lead shift manager. Jim barely knew Tom, and did this because he is a nice person. It is our life goal to be more like Jim and Nancy. Tom jumped at the opportunity, and this was the beginning of his career in the beer world.
I know I’m talking about my husband, and that I’m biased, but Tom is a smart man, and is also not scared of hard work. After working at the warehouse for a year, he emailed a bunch of breweries asking to get in the door any way possible. He ended up landing a job at Half Acre on the packaging line, and was eventually moved to shipping. Half Acre was a great place for him. He was able to be goofy and himself—they just really embrace that there. After being at Half Acre for a year Goose Island reached out to him about the resume he had sent when he gave resumes to a bunch of breweries the year before. They were looking for a Brewer I position to be filled, and needed someone to work in their barrel warehouse. Tom couldn’t pass this up, his goal was to be a brewer and this was the next step to be able to do that. Goose was also a great place for him, and the people were terrific there too. The brewing industry seems to be filled with mostly cool people who let you be your weird self. Not that I can’t be where I am at, but it’s not the same—sometimes I get a little jealous.
When we moved to Lake County, the drive to Goose became intense. Tom was starting to go a little bonkers with that commute, and he decided to try to get a job closer to home. He is now an Assistant Brewer at Half Day Brewing, about 15 minutes away from our house. This also became another step up in his brewing career. Half Day is a brewpub so it is small, and he works alongside the head brewer, Brandon. The two of them make it happen. I have to give Brandon props, the beer is really good.
I’m really proud of Tom. Not many people can completely reinvent themselves and learn a new trade so quickly. It’s pretty awesome to watch him figure it out.
My story is that of a home baker. Baking is therapeutic to me. I love working with my hands, I love how precise and scientific it can be, and I love making something beautiful. I also like that it’s temporary, an art that gets eaten and enjoyed. It reminds me of the same feeling I had as an athlete—not the getting eaten part. Mastering anything takes time and practice, and I enjoy learning new skills. I am just starting to explore this as a career, Tom definitely has a jump on me, but I’m catching up quick.
Although I have been baking since I was a child, pie is relatively new to me. I started right around 2 years ago. At first, I gave a traditional apple pie with an all-butter crust a try. It was for a friends party and it ended up OK, but I overworked the dough and I didn’t use temperature control. It was kind of a mushy mess, and when you cut into the pie it spilled everywhere. It was from there that I read, then baked a pie and then read some more. I have learned from every pie since. I would share my apple pie with everyone who would have some, and eventually started to receive rave reviews. Family and friends are nice though, and it was hard for me to know if it was actually that good, or if they were just giving me an ego boost. That’s when I decided to enter a competition for apple pies, and ended up winning. It was a local town apple fest competition, but nonetheless, my pie was tasty enough to win, and that was what really hooked me. I seriously dream about baking now, and it makes me happy.
I’ve always seen myself as a small business owner, I know this is going to be hard, but at this point, it doesn’t even feel like work. I think that has to be a good sign, and starting a business in baking is the right move for me.
$1,000 and a dream
Our story leads us to this moment. Tom and I are betting on ourselves, and we will see where this leads us. Like every decision we make together, we know what we want and like and work to find ways to make it happen. Sometimes it evolves into something unexpected, but it’s always an adventure, and I’m lucky to have a man who is willing to join me on this ride.
We are starting off small. We have $1,000 to get things off the ground, and I’m starting at farmers’ markets and using shared commercial kitchen space so I can cater weddings and events. Tom and I are all about organic growth and providing the best product. Like I was with volleyball, I don’t want to be mediocre. I want to make the best damn pie I possibly can because it is fun and exciting to master something, and watch others enjoy what I have created. I know he is the same about beer.
It’s fun to share why I think we work as a couple, and also why we have chosen to go into these industries. Tom and I get called “artsy” a lot, I’m not sure if that is what we are, but I do think we both find joy in being creative. I also think we don’t always fit into traditional work settings, and this is an awesome outlet for us to make a living being us, and we can be our own bosses. We are also lucky enough to have day jobs that don’t suck and pay the bills. We may be starting off with $1,000 for this new adventure, but we are taking calculated risks and we will both keep our day jobs.
Where do we see ourselves in a few years—as the brewer and the baker enjoying lake life. Whatever this becomes it will be ours, as of right now we see a small brewery and pie shop, but as always, we are open to all the possibilities.
Sometimes I get overwhelmed with how lucky I am to have found Tom, and to have lived the life I have.
I love our lives—Tom and I say this to each other a lot. Let’s see where this venture takes us.
We finished our first market season last summer at the Mundelein Farmers’ Market and sold every pie we brought out! We will be back at the Mundelein market this summer and we have added the Fox Lake and Wauconda Farmers Markets as well. To stay up to date on other events and where we will be follow us on Facebook.
We take orders and cater! If you want to order any of our pies for holidays, events, wedding or other special orders please contact us. For special orders we can work out delivery or pickup.
Large Pies $20 to $25 depending on the pie, check out our menu for some of our pies and prices. The menu is rotating so if you have a favorite ask us and we probably make it.
The Mundelein Farmers’ Market will be held every Friday starting June 14 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Park Street between Highway 45 and Seymour Ave.
The Wauconda Farmers’ Market will be held every Thursday starting July 11 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Main Street.
The Fox Lake Farmers’ Market will be held every Tuesday starting June 4 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on 17 E. School Ct.
We sell out quickly at the market, if you want to secure your pie at the market, be sure to place a preorder by contacting us at least two days before a market day.
Starting your own cottage food business, getting started is the hardest part.
Thank you cottage food law! I have always wanted to start my own business. As much as baking has been my passion, being an entrepreneur has also been a dream of mine. I currently have a great day job as a fundraiser for Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and fully appreciate my career in development. Being in the non-profit sector is a natural fit, I feel a sense of purpose in my work, and have met incredible people along the way. I was also a volleyball player in college at Valparaiso University, and I think because I am a former collegiate athlete, and probably because of my personality overall, I love the grit of managing a big fundraising event, just as I love the challenge of starting my own business. And who the hell doesn’t like pies.
“Never say ‘no’ to pie. No matter what, wherever you are, diet-wise or whatever, you know what? You can always have a small piece of pie, and I like pie. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like pie. If somebody doesn’t like pie, I don’t trust them. I’ll bet you Vladimir Putin doesn’t like pie.” -Al Roker.
When you are working to pay the bills, starting your own business seems damn near impossible. My husband, Tom, and I were able to save money and buy a modest house on a private lake in Lake County, Ill. I grew up in this neighborhood, and my parents still live here. It’s beautiful, and we are lucky. Everyday I wake up and can’t believe this is where I get to live. I never thought I would own a home, and here we are, pinching pennies and loving every second of lake life.
So how does one start a business without the capital? I can work to get a loan, or pitch investors, but taking the risk of starting a bakery and quitting my day job is just not plausible for us. My husband is a brewer, and we need both incomes to cover our bills. I started to read up on food trucks and other options where I might be able to start a side business with less risk, and that is when I stumbled upon the cottage food law. I want to grow this business organically, and hopefully in the future I will be looking to secure funds for my own storefront.
As I start this journey, I want to write down my experience. The ups and downs, the problem solving, and overall operations of getting this thing off the ground. There are a lot of entrepreneurs out there, I’m nothing special, but I have to believe that we all go through similar problems, maybe if I write this down we can help each other, especially if there is someone interested in starting as a cottage food vendor. As of right now, I am officially going to be a vendor at the Mundelein Farmers Market in Illinois. I’ve decided to start with one this summer, really dial in my recipes and figure out the process of how in the holy hell I’m going to make a bunch of pies in my home kitchen. Let me tell you what I have needed to do to get this far…
The Cottage Food Operation Law (Public Act 097-0393), which is an amendment to the Food Handling Regulation Enforcement Act, became effective on January 1, 2012 in the State of Illinois. This new law allows certain foods to be prepared in private home kitchens to be sold only at an Illinois farmers’ market, which is defined by the Act as a “common facility or area where farmers gather to sell a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and other locally produced farm and food products, directly to consumers.” The foods that can be prepared for sale at farmers’ markets are limited to selected non-potentially hazardous foods, which are foods that, even without refrigeration, will not support the growth of germs that can make people sick.
For the steps below I will use examples from my own experiences in Lake County, Ill.
STEP 1: RESEARCH AND PRODUCT Can you operate in your state, and your county? Many states have passed cottage food laws, the last I checked it is now more than 40. PickYourOwn is a good place to start, and has a good summary of states and state-specific information. You need to do some real research beyond this though. If your state does allow cottage food operation, has your local county or city passed an ordinance allowing you to sell your homemade goods? When I looked into Illinois I discovered that the state had passed a Cottage Food Operation Law, and the county I lived in had passed an ordinance. How exciting! As I read more I realized that this was a real possibility for me.
What product(s) do you want to sell? Each state has their own rules and regulations on what non-potentially hazardous foods are allowable. Again, research is key. In Illinois I can sell fruit pies, my brownie pie and my cookies, but I can’t sell pies that are cream, pumpkin, meringue, sweet potato, and so on. Be sure to check your local allowed and prohibited foods list.
STEP 2: REQUIREMENTS You will need to look into your local ordinance requirements and what the farmers’ market requirements are.
What are the requirements to legally operate in your area? Most areas are going to be similar, but again, you need to talk to your local health department to find out your specific requirements. In Lake County I was able to find a very helpful document that gave me a general outline and someone to contact. When I talked to the contact, I discovered that I needed to register with the local health department, and to do that I needed to obtain an Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) food service sanitation manager certificate by completing a state approved course and passing an examination. I was given a helpful list of companies and places where I could register for the course. This was also my first cost associated with my business, Lakebilly Pies. The course cost me $200. I’m not sure most folks would describe an 8 hour course as fun, but I really enjoyed it! I was in the room with restaurant owners and managers, and I learned great information about food safety. I passed the test with flying colors, but there was a ton of content and I studied for a few nights before going into the class as they recommended by ServSafe.
Some overall advice, you need to give yourself enough time to set up and get through all these requirements before you start selling at your farmers’ market. This is not going to happen in a week, it takes a few months to get up and running. I had to sign up for the course, and after taking the test, it took a week to get the results. Then I had to put my application in with the health department. They got back to me quickly with my certificate, but this was just the start.
Farmers’ Market Requirements
Decide what market(s) you want to sell at. Once you figure out which ones work best for you, make sure they are taking new vendors, look at costs associated with a space and what day(s) they operate. Each farmers’ market will have their own vendor rules that you need to comply with. Many, but not all, will require you to have vehicle and general liability insurance. My local markets require this, and it is another expense. I shopped around and the company that I found with the most reasonable rate was FLIP. They start at $299 for general liability and you can add additional insured for free (many farmers’ markets will want themselves listed as an additional insured on your policy).
STEP 3: REGISTER AS A BUSINESS
I’m not going to incorporate yet so I needed to register Lakebilly Pies as a DBA (Doing Business As) with my county as a sole proprietor. Illinois has a helpful page about starting a small business. When I do decide to incorporate, I will do so through the state and let my county know. If you are starting your business outside of Illinois I’m sure there are similar resources available from your state.
I headed over to the county clerk and filled out an assumed business name application, $5 filing fee. Then they gave me a list of Lake County newspapers. I reached out to get Lakebilly Pies published as a legal notice once a week for three consecutive weeks. I was not expecting the $80 to do this, but I had to do it so that’s that.
Illinois Department Of Revenue
You must register with the Illinois Department of Revenue if you conduct business in Illinois, or with Illinois customers. This includes sole proprietors (individual or husband/wife/civil union), exempt organizations, or government agencies withholding for Illinois employees.
Next step, register with the Illinois Department of Revenue. I registered electronically through MyTaxIllinois. Some states do not make it a requirement to register with their department of revenue as a sole proprietor, but be sure to do your research.
STEP 4: FARMERS’ MARKET APPLICATION Once you know which farmers’ market(s) you want to be at you will need to fill out an application. For Mundelein, they made it easy. I filled out my application, which dates I could attend, and submitted via email along with my food sanitation course certificate and proof of insurance. I just sent in the check for my space, and I’m excited to sell my pies!
So this is where I am now. I have a ton to do before my first day selling pies, but it’s only the end of February. I feel like I have it together, and I’m getting all this background stuff completed early. More to come as I continue to navigate this. If you have any questions, reach out to me, we can figure it out together.
I’m a believer in sharing passions. What is better than helping someone else master the trade you have put so much time into?
I want those who are interested in learning about pies and baking to study, experiment and figure out their own pie style.
I want others to love this process as much as I do.
I want others to love the feeling of pie dough in their hands.
I want others to make their first pie, and begin to problem solve when things don’t turn out perfect (it is my experience that imperfect pies, if there is such a thing, are also delicious. Just ask my family, they have eaten my pies as they have evolved).
I continue to soak up as much information as I can. Everything I have gained thus far comes from my own curiosity, the willingness of others to share what they know, and—of course—trial and error. I figure that if there are more pie makers out there that’s more pie for everyone to enjoy. Let’s make the world a better place, one pie at a time!
Some have expressed their concerns to me. “Do you really want to share your recipes? What if someone takes them from you?” Well, first off, there are no secrets in my recipes. My pies are made from high quality ingredients and I am still learning to master the process. Anyone can do this, and there are many avenues to gain the knowledge needed. I just want to be one of them.
In the coming months I plan to post when I can. So please, as I do, read about the knowledge I have gained, take my recipes, and make them your own. Oh, and if you don’t have enough time to make a pie, I’ll have one waiting for you at the famers’ market this summer.
My name is Heather, and baking is my hobby. I’ve always appreciated those who work with their hands. There is nothing better than taking a bunch of ingredients, learning a process and having something tangible to show for it at the end. My husband thinks the same as me—he is a brewer at a local brewpub—and we both enjoy the methodology of baking and brewing. I have a day job that does not include my love for baking and pies, but recently I have started to move toward making my hobby a career. Small steps, but each one gets me closer to having my own pie business. For all those who want to start your own business, I will be documenting my journey, and hopefully teaching, sharing recipes and selling my pies along the way.