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Conflicted Incubator: A Divided Palm Coast Council May Relax Home-Based Bakeries

| February 14, 2012

At times Palm Coast likes to have its cake and eat it too.

The Palm Coast City Council may—just may—be relaxing its prohibition on home-based businesses enough to allow home-based bakeries. With a nod to self-starting entrepreneurship, a divided council on Tuesday directed its administration to prepare a draft ordinance that would amend existing code just enough to let residents use their kitchens as small businesses, in line with a new state law.

Whether the council finally votes to approve the proposal in the coming weeks is nowhere near guaranteed. The two Bills on the council—Lewis and McGuire—are outright opposed to relaxing the prohibition. Mayor Jon Netts has his reservations, but leans, for now, toward the two council members favoring the change, Frank Meeker and Jason DeLorenzo. Should the issue trigger a public outcry from residents fearful that their neighborhoods will suddenly be overrun by home-based bakeries, Netts’s position could be up for grabs, and the initiative killed.

Not that the city is being overrun by requests for home-based food industries. This particular initiative is the result of discussions initiated by just two people, a Palm Coast couple, who want to start their own modest baking business.

Cheryl Sheppard is part of the new new economy: the entrepreneur who’s taking it on herself to create her own job after experiencing, twice in three years, the sort of layoffs that have become a norm for tens of millions of Americans.

After her first lay-off in 2008—from her job as a research librarian at the Daytona Beach News-Journal—she enrolled within days in Daytona State College’s culinary program, graduating with honors less than two years later and earning her manager’s ServSafe certification. She worked at the Vince Carter Restaurant in Daytona Beach for 14 months, and was part of another round of lay-offs there.

Cheryl Sheppard at work. Click on the image for larger view. (Cheryl Sheppard)

“Given the recession and the tough job market these days, we decided to hire ourselves — to launch our own baking business,” Sheppard and her husband, Rick de Yampert, wrote city officials. He would be the business manager. Sheppard would bake and sell at festivals, farmers’ markets and special events. They’d also deliver to homes or businesses.

Sheppard’s and de Yampert’s Palm Coast address is a problem, however. The city allows some home businesses. But not home-based kitchens used for commercial gain.

The city prizes itself on its quiet, residential neighborhoods, where so much as an overly large commercial sign on a car invites the wrath of the city’s code enforcement officers. But Palm Coast has also spent the better part of the last two years advertising itself as a place friendly to entrepreneurial, small business. The bulk of its economic development strategy for now is built around its low-key Business Assistance Center, which assists small and nascent businesses, most of which are home-based. But while lawyers, accountants, handymen and lawn maintenance workers can operate out of their home, and while people may even grow vegetables in their backyard and sell them, bakers may not fire up their ovens for commercial gain.

Sheppard’s case brought to light two contradicting strains in Palm Coast’s idea of itself: the quiet, prim and orderly residential town half peopled by retirees as opposed to the depressed, foreclosed and unemployed sprawl looking for the sort of rejuvenation summed up in its economic-development slogan, which remains more slogan than reality so far even as its expiry date approaches: “Prosperity 2021.” The contradiction places the city administration and the city council in the role of arbitrator again and again as policies of the last decade begin to seem out of date in this one.

Coincidentally, the Florida Legislature last year passed a law that now allows so-called home-based, “cottage food” industries, as long as the business doesn’t exceed $15,000 in annual gross sales. But the law by itself doesn’t override Palm Coast’s land use code. Nor does it compel local governments to mirror it. It merely permits local codes to be more permissive. So Palm Coast’s code would have to be amended to be in line with state law.

Beginning last summer, that’s just what Sheppard and de Yampert, in emails and meetings with city officials—including Mayor Jon Netts recently—have been trying to accomplish. It’s not for nothing they referred to their venture as using “our home as our own business incubator.” The “incubator” notion has been buzzing around council members’ heads for the last couple of years, too.

On Tuesday, the matter reached the Palm Coast City Council—and almost died there.

Council member Bill Lewis didn’t want to change anything in the code. He didn’t cite a particular reason. Bill McGuire was opposed on safety grounds. Home-cooked products don’t necessarily have to abide by the same food-safety strictures as regulated, commercial enterprises. McGuire was also dubious about the business value of the enterprise. “You’ll never convince me you’ll make serious bucks baking brownies in your home oven,” he said, particularly with a $15,000 cap on gross sales, not net profit. “We’re on dangerous ground when we start talking about people selling food out of their home without any kind of regulation.” (Sheppard’s goal is to move into a storefront once the business rolls. The business, presumably, will grow–and add employees.)

Council members Frank Meeker and Jason DeLorenzo were much more favorable to the idea. Meeker saw many contradictions between the prohibition on home-based baking and the allowance for, say, home-grown vegetables to be sold. He dismissed the notion that a home-based bakery would unfairly compete with existing bakeries, saying the same standard isn’t imposed on home-based lawyers or accountants, though they, too, compete with lawyers and accountants who have commercial offices.

And while City Manager Jim Landon said he and his administration were not taking a position either way, he would take a position against creating new regulations that the city’s code enforcement department is not equipped to enforce—such as food safety regulations.

State law, of course, sets out a series of regulations. The cottage-food law allows producing such things as breads and biscuits, pastries, honey, confections, jams, fruit pies, dry herbs, popcorn and vinegars. It does not allow the production of any kinds of meats, fruit or vegetable  or pickle canning, dips (including, alas, hummus), dairy products such as milk and yogurt, juices, ice cream or ice products, barbecue sauces or even elaborate breads that incorporate vegetables or cheese. Nor does it allow baking goods that require refrigeration. And should a home-based business’ products elicit complaints, the state would, theoretically, have to respond.

Senior Planner Sara Lockhart had set up the discussion with an overview of the issue, a summary of federal and state regulations of the food industry (it gets complicated), a brief history of Florida’s legislation and its place in the context of 30 other states that now have similar laws, and the pros and cons of mirroring the state law. One town did just that, Lockhart said: Davie, in Broward County, with one prohibition: no selling of home-made products out of the home business.

After 75 minutes of discussion, that left Netts wondering what the council as a whole wanted to do. He polled his colleagues, and it came down to his own tie-breaking decision: he has concerns about maintaining the quietness of neighborhoods, but, he said, referring to Sheppard and de Yampert (though not by name), “Their position sounds very much in accord with prosperity 2012. We said we’re not looking for the big businesses, we’re not looking for the 500 home run, we’re looking for the entrepreneur.”

So it would be for now: the administration was directed to draft the proposal, with the additional prohibition similar to Davie’s.

“Do you know what prompted the state legislature to do this?” Netts, ever curious, asked William Reischmann, the city attorney, near the end of the discussion.

“I do not,” Reischmann said. “Maybe it was the same couple.”

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28 Responses for “Conflicted Incubator: A Divided Palm Coast Council May Relax Home-Based Bakeries”

  1. K says:

    Are bakeries noisy?

  2. Let these people make a living…they are trying to help themselves and stay in Palm Coast- how can you argue with that?

  3. Joe A. says:

    What she does in her kitchen is her business. How can the city regulate what is being baked or cooked in her home? Have we entered into a stage of civilization where big brother is constantly watching? This is a matter of people baking specialty cakes and pastries. Next thing you know, accountants and lawyers will not be able to work from home.

    I am disappointed that Councilman Lewis and Councilman McGuire oppose this. I get Mr. Lewis does not want to change code; what is not broken does not need to be fixed. I am disappointed in Councilman McGuire’s ignorant and pessimistic stance. Way to be negative and discourage a future local business from starting up.

    How about we applaud good, hard working and decent people for taking the initiative in starting a business and trying to make a living. In addition, this is 1 less family having to apply for assistance because they have taking the initiative to support their family. BRAVO! BRAVO!

    When we allow small businesses to start up, we encourage them to grow. I hope that this business succeeds and that they one day have to open up a shop here in Palm Coast. This is a way we can start filling the empty store fronts.

    Best of luck to Cheryl Sheppard!

    Where can we get into contact with Ms. Sheppard? I would like to express my well wishes by purchasing a cake.

    • JOHN R. says:

      If home bakeries are allowed, then why not home barber shops, hair salons, etc? Where will the city draw the line? Once the door is opened, we go down a slippery slope. Contrary to what the Chamber and the Mayor say, Palm coast was designed by ITT as a retirement, recreation and leisure community. This is what we pioneers were promised back in 1971 when we purchased our lot.

  4. Home Business regulations are some of the toughest things do deal with as an elected official. For evey neighbor that does Avon and has just a few deliveries, there are those who run full scale businesses out of their homes, that do not need to be in a neighborhood. Many home businesses work great and stay that way, but others blossom and only surrive because the owner is dodging the regulations and fees that other businesses are expected to pay. In a country setting, with long distances between homes, it doesn’t often become a problem. In a neighborhood with small lots and not much parking, the neighbors end up upset and complaining. Often a no-win situation.

  5. No, bakeries are not noisy — at least ours won’t be. As the hope-to-be founder of the baking business mentioned in this story, Sweets From Bunny, I can say my husband and I will adhere to ALL of the already-existing codes and policies of the City of Palm Coast for a Class 2 home business (except, of course, the current prohibition against food-based businesses).

    That means we will have no signage at our home. We will have no sales out of our home and absolutely no customers visiting our home (we will vend at festivals and farmers markets and make deliveries to customers, hopefully businesses and organizations that will place big orders for their weekly managers meetings, etc.).

    We will have no supplies delivered to our home (we will pick up our supplies on an as-needed basis at U.S Food Service in Port Orange). We will have only a small inventory at our home — no need to build any sort of supply storage facility in our backyard.

    In short, our neighbors could watch our home 24-7 and not know I’m in business. We will be good neighbors just as we expect our neighbors to be.

    I have my state food-safety certification and have worked in area restaurants as a baker and pastry chef. If I get to launch Sweets From Bunny and you taste my treats, you will become a repeat customer! : )

    • JOHN R. says:

      Ms. Sheppard: The issue is really one of food health and safety. Will there be the inspections that local restaurants and other bakeries undergo on a random basis? Will you have a multi-million dollar insurance policy in case some one becomes ill after eating one of your sweets? You may not be able to put the blame on the vendor. Your proposal is not like baking cookies for the school or church social. BTW, will you form a corporation to further insulate you from legal liability? I am against the idea. There is so much vacant property available that the Palm Coast BAC should be able to set you up in an affordable location.

      • Hello John R.,

        Yes, food health and public safety are issues — very serious issues. I have my ServSafe certification, attained during my studies at Daytona State College. That certifies me exactly the same as restaurant workers (indeed, I worked at area restaurants before I was laid off). The state’s cottage food law is very specific that any goods made in a “cottage” business must be prominently labeled so — so that customers are aware that no state food inspectors have overseen such goods.

        My food would be labeled such — and I’ll also note on my goods that I personally have training and food safety certification.

        Yes, we will incorporate and yes, we will have insurance. And, BTW, even the most affordable kitchen-ready property around here would entail a sizable capital outlay — and, after a long period of unemployment, our funds to invest in a start-up are limited.

        Statistics show more than half small businesses fail within a few years. We hope to build our brand and a decent return-customer base before launching a storefront.

  6. Monica Campana says:

    My friend Selma in Orlando started out baking cookies for friends in her home. Best of luck Cheryl!

  7. A Palm Coast Neighbor says:

    If it’s a business, it belongs in a commercial location, not in your home. Most people start thier own business in a commercial suite. Is your home properly equiped for fire protection? Or will a fire destroy your home and possibly mame, hurt or kill anyone of the occupants or your neighbors? I’m sure the City Fire Marshall will have something to say about cooking pasteries and cakes for resale in your home. Who will watch the “health and safety” of your cooking enviroment? Will your pasteries be kept at proper temperatures? Will they be kept in a “clean” enviroment? Will the State Health department be permitted to enter your home and do inspections (just like the restaurants)?
    Mr. Meeker and DeLorenzo need to take a closer look at this. When they do they’ll vote against it, for the safety and wellfair of all Palm Coast voters.

    • Nancy N says:

      Welcome to the 21st century, A Palm Coast Neighbor. Where did you get the idea that “most people start their own business in a commercial suite”? That concept is a dinosaur that died long, long ago thanks to the internet and other technology. There are many, many hundreds if not thousands of people running businesses out of their homes in this city – businesses that in many cases bring money into this community from outside it through their revenues. I know that is the case with my own business that is run out of my home office – which the neighbors have no idea is here.

      This couple seems to have a solid business plan in place and the state has regulations in place to allow them to do what they want to do and regulate it. This business has the potential for future growth that would bring jobs and revenue into this community. If it doesn’t go like they plan, well, they are the ones taking on the risk. Why on earth would this community, especially in times of such economic difficulty, not want to provide the ability for this kind of venture? Bottom line…it doesn’t cost the city anything and could benefit the city greatly down the road.

      You want growth in this town? Stop regulating its small businesses and entrepreneurs out of existence!

    • Joe A. says:

      Palm Coast Neighbor:

      1) [edited out. Please refrain from telling our commenters how to spell.–FL]

      2) How can the Fire Marshal enforce what someone does in their home like cooking? If this young lady never came forth, you would of never have known she was baking delicious cookies and treats. It is no different than the Fire Marshal enforcing what you cook for dinner. Do we live in a communist state where you can not cook without the government’s approval?

      3) I will give you an agreement that a large scale commercial business has no place in a residential zone. There are limitations on what you can do from home and the government regulates some of that as previously stated above in the article. So all of your argument about inspections, regulations and health and safety is debunked.

      4) You have no right to attack this future business woman because of your opinion. This has no affect on the way of your life, has not raised your taxes and has not diminished the quality of your life. This is a couple who is struggling in this national economic failure and supporting themselves. They are starting a business from home with the intentions to expand. Would you rather them fail and have to collect welfare? Or would you rather then search for a job when no one is hiring?

      Let’s support this couple with their valiant efforts to make a living. Applaud them for taking the first step in creating a successful business. I hope that in1 year from now they have a store front in Palm Coast that is packed with customers. I hope that their innovation motivates others to succeed.

      5) People do not have the money to go into a commercial suite. Look at some of the start up cost you have. 1) Rent, 2) Redecoration, 3) Equipment, 4) Employees, 5) Supplies. To start something up right away is just burdensome. Your point should reflect to everyone with a home based business. We know there are accountants, contractors, landscapers, lawyers, and professionals that work from home. Maybe we should limit how much business people do from home? How about we tell people where they can work and when?

      @ Cheryl Sheppard : You do not need to explain to anyone what you are doing. I wish you the best of luck in your business and wish you many successes. I can not wait to purchase one of your cakes.

    • The state’s new cottage food law has specific and reasonable guidelines concerning the issues you bring up. For example, the law does not permit any sort of meat items or food that must be refrigerated.

      As I mentioned, I have my ServSafe certification, attained during my studies at Daytona State College. That certifies me exactly the same as restaurant workers (indeed, I worked at area restaurants before I was laid off).

      The state’s cottage food law is very specific that any goods made in a “cottage” business must be prominently labeled so — so that customers are aware that no state food inspectors have overseen such goods, and of course they can decline to patronize any such business.

      My food would be labeled as such — but I’ll also note on my goods that I personally have training and food safety certification.

      I won’t have a commercial oven in my home — just my regular everyday Whirlpool. I’m already baking on a daily basis — but I’m doing so merely to feed my family and make treats for friends and neighbors. Just to be clear, I’m not in business yet . . . I’m merely like any other person who likes to bake for friends and family. Well, not exactly — I do have a baking-pastry degree from Daytona State and my food safety certification.

      But I think the state’s reasoning in passing this law is that they realized the food and fire safety issues are no greater than already exist in any and every neighborhood home. Your Auntie Irene already is baking goodies for your family reunion, your sister’s birthday and for Thanksgiving, and of course she’s doing so out of her home. This law, with reasonable limitations, will allow people to monitize that situation.

      In my case, I not only want to monitize it — I want it to be the first step to owning and operating my own bakery.

  8. tjm says:

    WOW I think Lewis is “A PALM COAST NEIGHBOR”… or they are great friends….

    What I do inside my home to keep it should be of no concern to the city.. If I want to bake and sell the product for income so I can pay my mortgage, pay my property taxes and shop in the local stores adding to the economy..VS being a collector of State services.. More power to me.

    Attack the home bakers you also need to attack the bakers for BAKE SALES for School and Church, Synagogue and any other Religious organizations Fundraising events.

  9. R Weiner says:

    Are kitchen employees required to have their hair covered in some way? I’m not seeing it here.

  10. Anonymous says:

    To the best of my memory, the City already has an “at home bakery”. Some of you may recall, the Cakes over America location at the Flagler Airport, that due to the lack of business, closed it’s doors. As it’s doors were closing, the owner said, she would keep the business going ,at a smaller scale, in her home. Within weeks of closing, the City of Palm Coast, listed her as a new business in the City. I mentioned this to a City employee, at the workshop and he rejected my comments…I believe he is incorrect. But we all, know that businesses exist out their in our neighborhoods, by the delivery pickups and deliveries, that occur.. But times are tough, and as long as there are no disturbances, I say go for it!!!

  11. Honest and Truthful says:

    As usual the old farts in this city are up in arms complaining again. They don’t have a life. All they do is sit and watch everyone complaining about everything.

  12. some guy says:

    Best of lick to you cheryl!!!

    A Palm Coast Neighbor says:
    Is your home properly equiped for fire protection? Or will a fire destroy your home and possibly mame, hurt or kill anyone of the occupants or your neighbors?

    Well is your home properly equiped??? no diference in the two if you cook at your home. You could also have a fire that could hurt or kill someone in the home.

    Anonymous says:

    To the best of my memory, the City already has an “at home bakery”. Some of you may recall, the Cakes over America location at the Flagler Airport, that due to the lack of business, closed it’s doors.

    Cakes was not a bakery they only took orders over the phone kinda like FTD does with flowers.



    • Hello Frank Diliberto,

      I’ve addressed many of your concerns in other postings here. We will adhere to ALL of the Palm Coast regulations for a Class 2 home business, which allows two business trips per day –that’s no more than most people make anyway, going to the grocery store or Target or whatever. No supply trucks will come to us — we will get supplies ourselves, and that would be only once a week or so.

      Yes, we hope we reach the $15,000 gross cap quickly — that would tell us we have built our brand name up to a comfortable level, and it will be time to launch. In the meantime, with our savings almost deleted due to my lengthy unemployment, the profit from a $15,000 gross would be significant for us at this time. (Yes, I have spent many weeks and months looking for work.)

      Business fail for many reasons — there are many that have failed even though their product was worthy. I believe once people try my pastries and granola, they will be hooked and become return customers.

    • McCall says:

      You have just tried to regulate here out of business. The Florida Cottage law exists to help small operations and persons who cook for bake sales not have to have mountains of your silly regulation.

  14. JL says:

    Cheryl, I wish you luck. I, too, wanted to have a small, home bakery. Baked goods to sell at functions. But was shot down because of laws. We have to start somewhere. And it’s rediculous for anyone to think we’re going to bring in all this traffic to our little house. That’s just an excuse to say no. I hope they change the code. Palm Coast needs all the business and tax paying citizens they can get. And allowing some of us to have home based businesses will keep us in the city. Otherwise, we’ll be forced to move to where the jobs are. I hope the Mayor and the council allows the change in the code.

  15. snapperhead says:

    Good luck to you Cheryl. this is exactly the type of entrepreneurial attitude that should be encouraged…not discouraged. grow a pair Netts and make it happen.

  16. Doug Chozianin says:

    Will “P” section bakers be allowed to make marijuana cookies?

  17. Gia says:

    There is no way to regulate that kind of food. Dont be surprise if you get sick or kick the bucket!……

  18. patty says:

    What utter nonsense! Let the honest woman make an honest living. If you’re suspicious of the safety of the food/cookies just dont buy them but let the public have a choice. After all this is supposed to be a free country, albeit within reasonible limits. And practically speaking, a fire can start in ANY home.
    Too many nervous, negative nellies commenting/objecting and not enough really good neighbors. C’mon you latter group, speak up and get this thing rolling.

  19. palmcoaster says:

    I find this lady proposed home baking for sale, as follows:
    A) If anyone was to get sick over her product is her responsibility to pay damages. Is her house insurance advised that she will run this food business from it? She needs to disclose it to her home insurance agent and probably will raise the cost of her policy and that is a fact.
    B) If there was to be a fire also will be her insurance to pay for damages one more reason for her insurance to be notified that she will run her business from her house.
    C) Is for her clients to be aware and or concerned regarding the safety of her prepared food not the city responsibility or liability aka taxpayers. How is this to be resolved only the city attorney I believe can tell us. I am not one.
    D) regarding any potential inconveniences to her neighbors generated by her business, she sure will have to be exceptionally careful to that regard, no additional traffic, no unbecoming noise, no unsightly storage, etc. etc.
    E) I read many stories and I even have a friend in California that bakes and sells in the Internet the best most delicious Rum Cakes I ever tested and they started like Mr. Amos cookies, baking from home and selling to acquaintances, family and friends. I do not see a problem as long as carefully managed this activity, will not become a taxpayers and or neighbors liability. I wish my best to this lady on her endeavor. I also think that the city BAC also could help her find an inexpensive commercial location to operate in the near future when her business will grow. Apologize, for any misspell.

  20. McCall says:

    Palm Coast continues to prove that it has the dumbest Gov. known to man. It is insulting how they talked down to this citizen and adhere to their Brown Shirt idiocy. This town simply blows.

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