OPENING A BAKERY NOT SIMPLY A PIECE OF CAKE
Josie Rudderham always wanted to bake for a living but assumed it was fiscally impossible. So when she was laid off from her job in the mortgage industry after returning from maternity leave last year, she considered it the perfect time to take a shot at opening the company she had dreamed of. Now she is taking her busy home-based business to the next level and opening a storefront on Dundurn Street South, next month.
"We're too successful to stay at home," she says."I'm driving myself crazy working 18-hour days and I have a two-year-old. I wouldn't want to continue doing it this way."
In September 2010, Rudderham founded Cake & Loaf, a from-scratch bakery that uses mostly local and organic ingredients in an effort to support Hamilton's farmers and small businesses. But after a year of selling bread, custom cakes and seasonal desserts at Hamilton farmers markets and through the Community Supported Baking Service, business is booming and her kitchen can't handle the constant inundation of orders.
This demand for home-baked treats had the same effect on business owners Lynne Jury of Let Them Eat Cakes and Debby Stoud of Hotti Biscotti. Like Rudderham, both women started baking from their home kitchens but the influx of orders forced them to go hunting for retail spaces. Jury opened her James Street South bakery in November 2010 and Stoud opened her Westdale biscotti shop in April of this year with her son.
Rudderham, like her fellow Hamilton home-based bakers, says it was impossible to grow Cake & Loaf by producing more product because of restrictions put in place by Hamilton's zoning code on home-based businesses.
"It really limits your growth," she says. "I couldn't hire help and you can only get so far working by yourself."
Not being able to hire outside employees is just one restriction on the list of Hamilton's home-based business regulations, and yet another reason the three home bakers felt pressure to search for retail spaces.
Scott Baldy, licensing facilitator with the City of Hamilton, says there are two main steps food-related businesses must complete before being granted licenses to operate. First, hopeful business owners must arrange their home businesses according to the zoning code of Hamilton. For example, one rule states that the business can only occupy 15-20 per cent of the dwelling, which can be difficult if you have three refrigerators, like Rudderham.
Although home-based bakery owners are not allowed to hire outside employees, they can hire people who live in the house. But for Jury, this was not an option.
"Neither my son, nor my husband were really interested in cake decorating," she laughs.
After organizing their homes according to this code, the business owners must obtain Health Unit approval from the city. The inspectors examine details such as counter space and whether the owner has pets – anything that may lead to product contamination. If the business passes the initial inspection, it is inspected two to four times each year after that.
Although storefront bakeries still need to pass the Health Unit inspection, there is more room for success with more practical zoning restrictions in place. Both Jury and Stoud have experienced huge increases in sales since their stores have opened. This is partly due to walk-in traffic.
"When I first opened I had one floor to display the cakes," says Jury. Lots of people would come in just because they were very curious."
This prompted her to start making cupcakes for her impromptu walk-in guests, just so they could have a taste of her creations without having to buy a whole cake. In April, she decided to open a tea room on the upper floor of the building so her customers could have somewhere to relax and enjoy their treats.
Stoud has about 50 per cent more customers than when she ran Hotti Biscotti from her home kitchen, largely due to walk-in traffic.
Rudderham says she is looking forward to be able to boost her revenue in her new store.
"I have to turn people down all the time," she says about her current circumstances.
She thinks Hamilton needs a place like Cake & Loaf and other small local businesses because people seem to be increasingly interested in supporting local endeavors. This may explain the sudden surge of home-based bakers-turned- shop owners.
"I see people around Hamilton asking for these things," she says. "I see a genuine interest in learning more about where peoples' food comes from."