Food Program Helps Budding Entrepreneurs Find The Recipe For Success

By Kristina Karisch
The Modesto Bee

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The four-week course Called “Recipes for Success” teaches students the basics of food handling and entrepreneurship. It also helps to prepare them to acquire a cottage food license so they can start their own business from home.


Susan Mensinger has been making peanut brittle for years, giving it as gifts to friends and family who appreciate the sweet treat. But it was only recently that Mensinger, a Modesto resident, decided she wanted to try selling the snack and start a new project during her retirement.

She heard about a free class — called “Recipes for Success” — being offered by Opportunity Stanislaus through social media and an acquaintance, and signed up this January. The four-week course teaches students the basics of food handling and entrepreneurship and prepares them to acquire a cottage food license so they can start their own business from their homes.

Gavin Bruce, who manages the cottage food microenterprise program at Opportunity Stanislaus, said his organization had been talking about the program for a number of years before developing it in earnest about a year ago. He said it “became apparent” that there was a demand for information about how to start your own food business, and Opportunity Stanislaus identified cottage foods as a good fit.

Cottage food regulations in California date back to 2013, when it became legal to sell foods made in a home kitchen to the public. Still, the legislation is restrictive, limiting cottage foods to non-perishables like baked goods, jams and snacks that won’t spoil and don’t require refrigeration.

These foods provide the least risk from a regulatory standpoint, Bruce said, since inspectors have less access to home kitchens than commercial facilities.

Under the regulations, Bruce said, “people will be able to make some extra money on the side and it will help address poverty, and then also it can address food desert situations in low-income neighborhoods.”

Additionally, cottage foods provide a lower barrier to entry for many people looking to start a business, and offer a way for them to “get their feet wet.” Instead of entering into an often costly lease for a professional kitchen, individuals can sell their products using the kitchen and supplies they already have.

The cottage food program runs for four weeks, and students learn about the types of licenses they need to start their business, what order to apply for them in, and how to best navigate the process of getting certified. When students complete the course, Bruce said, they’ll have a plan for a product they can sell and the regulations they need to comply with.

In addition to the ServSafe food handling certification, those looking to start a cottage food business need a county license, a local business license and approval from the city’s planning department, among other things. Home business licenses in Modesto, for example, cost $20 annually if gross receipts are less than $2,000 a year.

Bruce said that Opportunity Stanislaus’ program walks students through all the steps to gain each license and how to best prepare their documents and kitchens for inspection. They also pay for the students’ first ServSafe examination fee, and offer a reimbursement program for their cottage food licensing fee.

Helping students navigate the process
After the first class completed the program in October, Bruce and his team made changes to the structure of the course to better explain the process. Opportunity Stanislaus staff then check in with students after they’ve completed the course to help with applications and offer advice until their businesses are successfully up and running, which can take a number of months depending on how fast participants are able to apply for and get the licenses they need.

“We kind of see it as ourselves acting as proxy health officials,” he said, reading applications and providing feedback before they’re sent in for review at the various departments.

Theresa Spezzano, a research scientist at the University of California, Merced, teaches the program’s food handling components and administers the ServSafe exam. She helped develop the curriculum for the course and worked with Bruce to ensure the course was as comprehensive as possible to make the licensing process easy to navigate.

“All they have to do (after) is go in with their paperwork that they’ve already done through Opportunity Stanislaus, and it should be really easy to get everything through the county,” she said.

Since October, Bruce said, 47 people have enrolled in the course, with 41 completing it successfully. The last class to start was in March, with six students who were unable to complete the unit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently, Opportunity Stanislaus is offering a shortened webinar version of the program, which doesn’t include food safety training and ServSafe.

Instead, participants get a list of approved providers where they can obtain a similar food handler card on their own. Bruce said that they will eventually resume in-person courses when the pandemic allows, but are still following up with participants to assist them in putting together their license applications and hashing out their business plans.

For Mensinger, the course and support offered by Opportunity Stanislaus were instrumental in getting her business off the ground.

Mensinger said she appreciated how thorough the class was, and how well it prepared students for the examination at the end. The speakers who presented to the class on different aspects of entrepreneurship and starting a business helped the students feel prepared, she said, and by the time the course was over and she was completing applications for a license, she felt like she had taken time to “dot all the Is and cross all the Ts.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Mensinger plowed ahead and obtained all the necessary licenses. After taking the course February, her business went fully operational in July — under the name “Sweet Treats.” Currently, she’s selling her products through word of mouth marketing, but hopes to sell some of her peanut brittle in local stores in the future.
“The whole thing was invaluable,” she said.

For more information about the cottage food program, contact Opportunity Stanislaus online or at 209-488-4528.

This story was produced with financial support from the Stanislaus Community Foundation, along with the GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. The Modesto Bee maintains full editorial control of this work.
To help fund The Bee’s economic development and children’s health reporters with Report for America, go to
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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