There are many creative minds in Essex County. From aerial yoga studios, cooking schools, even an all-ages performing arts academy, there are plenty of ways to explore different hobbies and creative ventures. Some Essex County neighbors have used a new New Jersey law to take their cooking and baking hobbies to a new level. The Cottage Food Operator Permit took effect in October 2021 and several locals have used the permitting process to start their own home-based businesses, selling everything from macarons to bagels. This new permit has truly enabled New Jersey home bakers to finally get their business off the ground. Read on to learn more about these (quite literally) home-grown businesses.
About the Permit
The Cottage Food Operator permit was officially launched in October 2021, but the path to the permit began in 2017. The term ‘cottage food’ refers to food produced in a residential home or other designated space and sold directly to a consumer. While every other state in the US had some sort of law permitting this type of sale, New Jersey had an outright ban on the commercial sale of home-prepared foods. The laws across the country vary in their specifics — for example, some states have a revenue limit for home producers, and others have limits on what kinds of food can be produced and sold.
In 2017, the New Jersey Home Bakers Association sued the New Jersey Department of Health to challenge the ban. The NJHBA focuses on economic development, freedom of choice for producers and consumers, and food safety while seeking to make the sale of home-baked goods attainable for New Jersey producers. The NJHBA partnered with the Institute for Justice to do the advocacy work required to change the law. In June 2020, the Department of Health initiated the formal rulemaking process, establishing the cottage food operator permit.
The rule was finalized in October 2021, opening up new opportunities to home producers across the state. Observers note that the state’s final rule created a schema that was both affordable and easy to comply with. It also created clear limits to what the permit does not allow. To get started, the application is $100, the permit application is online, and the requirements for compliance focus on food safety and labeling. All permit holders are required to pass an accredited Food Protection Manager course and test.
Several of the makers MG spoke with pointed to the NJHBA Facebook page as an invaluable resource as they went through the permitting process. Between study guides for the food safety tests, support from peers who had ‘been there + done that,’ and resources about how to complete the application, there was a lot of information available online.
While the bulk of the law describes what makers can do, a couple of provisions describe what they can’t do. First, a revenue limit of $50,000 per year means that makers have to be deliberate in how they run their businesses. Approaching the revenue cap means that the business owner would have to consider whether the cottage permit is really the best fit or whether they should move the business into a commercial kitchen and change the licensing schema.
Second, because no temperature controlled (TCS) foods are permitted to be sold using the cottage food permit, it limits what can be produced and sold. A non-TCS food does not need time and temperature controls to remain safe for consumption. This keeps the cottage food permit focused on temperature-stable foods like baked goods, popcorn, dried pastas, jams, and other items.
Essex County Permit Holders
The Montclair Girl was able to connect with several of Essex County’s cottage food permit holders. These are all small businesses operating right here in Essex County. Each one has a set menu but also takes custom orders. As of summer 2022, there are 30 permit holders in Essex County.
For some of the makers, the cottage food permit has been the long-awaited green light to start their own business. For others, it’s created an affordable way to experiment with an idea or grow a hobby without having to commit to renting a space on their own or in a commercial kitchen. Renting a space in a commercial kitchen can cost over $100 an hour, the time has to be scheduled in advance, and makers are restricted in what they can store on site. Being able to produce from home has been a big opportunity for local bakers.
Here is a list of some local Essex County cottage food permit holders:
Verona baker Erin Cammerota has always baked, even during her 17-year career in fashion. She was the go-to person among friends and family to bake for celebrations like baby showers and birthday parties. She was baking so much and perfecting her skills when the Cottage Permit was passed. “It made me get a lot more serious about starting a company,” she said. “I formed an LLC and started researching what was needed for the permit.” Erin went through the process to get the permit and received it in January 2022.
Erin makes cakes, cookies, cupcakes, covered Oreos, and cake pops, but her favorite thing to make and her signature item is a traditional French macaron. Since everything is custom-made, Erin works with customers to make sure their visions are met. “The custom orders are really fun and creative,” she said. Erin’s macarons come in traditional and more creative flavors, and she can do custom shapes and colors. “I have character macarons, like Pokemon or Baby Yoda,” she said, “and flavors like cotton candy.”
In June 2022, Erin left her job in the fashion industry to pursue baking full-time. A year from now, she would like to be able to offer more macarons more consistently, and have more special flavors around holidays. She wants to be able to take on more custom orders, as she says having a more structured business will help her manage the time necessary to complete those orders. “The whole experience has been so fulfilling,” Erin said. “I’m excited. It’s been a long time coming, both for the industry and for me personally.”
(Emily Marsac, Bakes by Izzy. Photo courtesy of Lisa White Photo)
West Orange resident Emily Marsac found herself at a particularly low point in the middle of 2020. The pandemic was in full swing, her job as a yoga teacher was in limbo, and she had just suffered a miscarriage. Baking had been a lifelong hobby of Emily’s and she found herself turning to it more and more for comfort during the dark times. A quote from actress Carrie Fisher comes to mind when thinking about Emily’s approach to baking: “Take your broken heart, and make it into art.” Emily said that the miscarriage led her to the business. “I had to do something to work through my grief,” she said. “It turned out that this was it.”
Emily, who grew up in Atlanta, GA, said, “My mom was always baking. She sold cookies and wedding cakes from our home so it was something that was a constant.” Emily had worked in event producing for about 12 years before transitioning to teaching yoga full-time in 2015. Throughout it all, Emily would bake for friends, and would challenge herself by finding more and more complex recipes. Over time, friends would tap her to bake specialty items for celebrations like birthdays, and wanted to pay her for it. As she baked for a distraction from her grief, she thought that maybe it was time to make something official out of her hobby.
Emily rented space at a nearby commercial kitchen starting in October 2020. She also set up an LLC and got her website up and running. At the time, Emily would bake one day a week, usually Thursdays, and deliver the items on Fridays. The arrangement had its pros and cons: being in a commercial kitchen allowed Emily to sell items with few restrictions, but she couldn’t store anything there so all of her ingredients had to be carted back and forth for each visit. Her business was growing, but it still wasn’t at the point where she wanted to level up her arrangement in the commercial kitchen and expand her space. The cottage food permit would solve some of these challenges, and as Emily learned more about it, she applied for the permit and completed the certifications.
(Photo by Lisa White Photo)
Receiving the cottage food permit has created new options for Emily. To start, she has more choices in terms of when and how much she can bake. “It gives me a lot of flexibility,” she said. “I bake from home full-time, but still have space at the commercial kitchen for backup when things get crazy.” Emily can bake around her young son’s schedule and has been able to increase the volume of orders she can fulfill. She also has customers pick up their orders from her home, which saves her time and energy doing deliveries. The permit has allowed Emily to expand her business without the commitment and cost of increasing her space at the commercial kitchen.
The menu at Bakes by Izzy includes cakes, cookies, and brownies. Emily says that the most popular item on the menu is a toss-up between the brown butter brownies and the weekly treat boxes, which include a random assortment of items made that week. Her favorite thing to make are cakes. “I have no professional training so being able to improve my skills on decorating cakes, achieving a certain look, is very satisfying,” she said. “I can really see my progress over time and it’s very rewarding.” Emily offers custom cakes for anything from a birthday to a bat mitzvah, and also offers smash cakes for toddler birthdays.
Stephen Joseph is a Maplewood father whose business started with a query. He wanted to find good tasting mini bagels. A few years ago, he experimented with making them. “They were terrible,” he admits. During the pandemic sourdough craze, he tried again. “I became obsessed with trying different recipes and tinkering,” he said. This time, they were more palatable. “It started as a fun thing, for my family and friends. We had a few taste testers,” he said. Eventually, the quality of the bagels improved and so did the quantity of bagels produced.
(Stephen Josephs in his Maplewood kitchen. Photo Courtesy of Stephen Josephs)
At this same time, Stephen learned about the cottage food permit. “I didn’t really know what it was, but I was talking to my dad about what my next steps were,” he said. His dad had read about the permit and they talked about how it could be a good option for Stephen to take his bagel making to the next level, while still keeping his day job as a broadcast operations manager for a global television network.
Stephen got organized and applied for the permit. One of his friends who was an original taste-tester designed the logo. He received the permit in early 2022. Now, he takes pre-orders throughout the week for pickup on Sunday. The bagels come in traditional flavors like everything and sesame, and Stephen says that the biggest seller is Rosemary Salt. Each order is a half-dozen bagels, and he sells between 20-26 orders per week. “It’s been so great to connect with people,” he said. “People tell me how much they love the bagels.” Most customers find him through word of mouth or social media. “People say how the bagels remind them of their favorite bagel shop back home, or they draw some other connection,” he said. “Bagels seem to be a nostalgic thing.”
(Bite Me Bagels. Photo Courtesy of Stephen Josephs)
In addition to connecting with other bagel-lovers, Stephen says that the best part about this setup is that he can do it all from home. “I can do this and still hang out with my wife and kids,” he said. “I get to make good food with lots of love, and pass that on to others.”
How to purchase: Through Instagram
Danielle Kimmel’s foray into baking began five years ago when she overhauled her diet to make some health-based changes. “I decided to go gluten- and dairy-free,” she said. “But many of the food products available had too many ingredients or ingredients I didn’t want.” Danielle also keeps Kosher, which added another layer to what would be suitable. She taught herself how to make diet-compliant products but with fresh, known ingredients. At the time, she was selling essential oils and would bring her baked goods with her to sales events. They were a big hit.
Before Covid, Danielle was researching how to make her hobby into a business, but found that the restrictions in New Jersey would be burdensome for a home-based business. She considered getting space in New York, which had more manageable restrictions at the time. The cottage permit becoming available in New Jersey meant Danielle could make her hobby into a business while keeping all of the operations at her home. Danielle says that having the permit has given her more confidence. “I can sell more places, it’s been easier to get insurance and form an LLC,” she said. “It will be easier for me to get into a larger commercial market with the permit.”
Danielle got her permit in early 2022 and continues to offer her delicious but healthful baked goods. “My items are gluten free, they have no dairy, no refined sugar, and are also kosher,” she says. The type of product that she was looking for five years ago is exactly what she sells now. The popularity of her items indicates that there is a larger market for it, too. Three of the most popular items are her take on a Twix bar, a chocolate peanut butter cup, and thin mint-style cookies. Danielle also offers special menus for Jewish holidays.
Belleville-based baker Aniela Stair wants each treat that comes from her kitchen to be a gift. Her business’ slogan is “Sweet Aniela’s is where the sweetest gifts are made.” Sweet Aniela’s offers specialty cakes cupcakes for weddings and big events. Aniela grew up in a big family in Freeport, Long Island, where her dad, Paul Williams, was always baking something. She and her sisters were tapped to help out in the kitchen, and she has many fond memories of spending time with family in the kitchen.
(Aniela and her dad, Paul Williams. Photo courtesy of Aniela Stair.)
Aniela (pronounced like ‘Daniella’ without the D) started baking more on her own as an adult when her parents moved away from the area in the late 1990s. “It was therapeutic,” she said. She would bring her creations into her office at Thomson Reuters. The reactions from her coworkers were what moved her to bake more. “They were so encouraging and so positive,” she said. “There was so much encouragement every step of the way. It’s almost like I owe it to them.” Her coworkers offered Aniela money to pay for the goodies, which she refused, as it was so enjoyable for her to bake. They would instead contribute ingredients to the cause. “I would show up and there would be sugar, butter, anything on my desk,” she said. Aniela currently works at the Boston Consulting Group in Hudson Yards. Her coworkers there have also been happy recipients of her treats. “When the Hudson Yards office opened, they wanted to showcase things I had made,” she said. “Coworkers are always asking when they can place an order.”
Over time, friends, colleagues and neighbors would ask Aniela to bake cakes for family gatherings and celebrations. She felt that she could make her efforts into an official business but wanted to go about things the right way. “I found the New Jersey Home Bakers Association on Facebook and that was instrumental in helping me get everything organized,” she said. Aniela got her permit in April 2022, and it has changed how she runs her business. “Being able to broadcast my business has been huge,” she said. In addition to word-of-mouth clients, Aniela gets most of her customers through her Instagram page. The increased business has also forced her to be more disciplined with time management: customers have already placed orders through Fall 2022. “People are putting in their orders for upcoming events,” she said. “It’s not crazy but it’s consistent.” Aniela still works full time at the Boston Consulting Group and bakes on nights and weekends, and the occasional vacation day off if she’s on a crunch to complete an order.
(Animal-themed baby shower cake. Photo courtesy of Aniela Stair.)
Aniela’s focus, in addition to the delicious and beautiful cakes, is on the customer experience. “I want to make it a fun experience for the customer,” she says. “I want them to talk with me through their inspiration, about the event, and make it collaborative.” Aniela feels that since the dessert is a part of a special event, it should be special too. While Aniela’s main focus is on cakes and cupcakes, she has been working on perfecting her French macarons. “They are very finicky,” she said. “I am almost ready to offer them regularly but it’s been a lot of trial and error.”
(Aniela at work. Photo courtesy of Aniela Stair.)
In the future, Aniela would like to open her own cake studio. She envisions a space where clients can have a perfectly curated experience to work with her on designing their cakes. She also wants to teach cake decorating classes, after being inspired by the first cake decorating class she took. “I’ll never forget it,” she said. “It was so welcoming and intimate. There was a wine bar, a few instructors, and each student had their own workstation and supplies.” Aniela would teach cake decorating as well as sugar flower-making, which she describes as one of her favorite things to do. “I just put on some jazz and put them together,” she says.
How to purchase: Instagram
Marlena Lawrence describes getting her cottage food permit as a game changer. She had always been the go-to baker for friends, coworkers, and family for celebrations and other occasions, and formally becoming a business meant she could expand and advertise her offerings. “The permit changed the course of my business,” she said. Her bakery is called Zel’s Sweet Creations after her two daughters, whose birthday party cakes are the inspiration behind the business. “My younger daughter, Ariana, couldn’t pronounce my oldest daughter, Giselle’s, name as a toddler,” she said. “She called her Zel. Using it is a great way for me to incorporate both of them in the business name.”
(Marlena Lawrence of Zel’s Sweets. Photo Courtesy of Marlena Lawrence.)
Marlena, who lives in West Orange, grew up in Nutley in a big Italian family. “It always felt like a party just because there were so many of us,” she said. Her family would have a large Sunday dinner each week, which is how she got into cooking and baking. She kept up with baking and always had fun experimenting with new recipes and creations. Once Marlena had her own family and children, she took over the hosting duties and the desserts, in particular, for celebrations and birthday parties. “Every party had a theme, including the desserts,” she said. “We would have 30 to 50 people at the house.”
While friends and neighbors would approach Marlena to purchase items, she did some research and learned about the cottage food permit situation in New Jersey. She found out about the NJHBA’s mission and as soon as the permit was available, she applied for and received it. She also took some classes online about managing a business.
Marlena runs Zel’s Sweet Creations part-time, while she continues on with her full-time job as a contracts administrator at Spiniello Companies. She says that once she got the permit, things really took off. “In addition to getting orders from friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers, I became an approved vendor for Rutgers University,” she said. “I provided 3,400 items for the University’s White Coat ceremony.” Marlena has also participated in pop-up markets and street fairs around West Orange. “The permit really changed the scope of my business,” she said. “I’m able to legally participate in things that I wasn’t able to before.”
(Zel’s Sweets signature cheesecake cones, topped with Samoa Cookies (L, C) and Strawberries (R). Photo courtesy of Marlena Lawrence.)
The most unique items from Zel’s Sweets are the Pie Pops, which are mini hand pies on a stick, and the Cheesecake Cone, which is a chocolate-lined ice cream cone with cheesecake filling and various toppings like strawberries or Oreos. There are also cakes, cupcakes, cake pops, and cookies available. “Everything is custom-made,” said Marlena. “I bake to the customer’s order.” Marlena bakes from her home, where her kitchen has a unique set up: her own backyard chicken coop. “I have six chickens in my backyard, and that’s where I get all my eggs.” she said.
Looking ahead, Marlena would like to have her own shop, where customers can pick up a treat to go or sit and enjoy it. “It would be a dessert cafe,” she said. “Ideally it would be in West Orange.”
How to order: Instagram