Sweet relief? 
Legislation would let home bakers sell their goods without a license; local bakers weigh in on ‘Cookie Bill’ 

BY HANNAH WEIKEL - Freeman Staff

June 17, 2017

      

Tricia Schuetz, owner of Tricia’s Bake Shop, with her freshly baked cookies that will be sold at a farmers market.
Hannah Weikel/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA — After licensing fees, business insurance, hourly commercial kitchen rental, ingredients and farmers market costs, it’s tough for small-scale bakers in Wisconsin to rake in enough dough to make it.

But a handful of state lawmakers have introduced the “Cookie Bill” to lessen the financial burden by eliminating mandatory licenses — which require bakers to use a commercial kitchen and pay annual fees — for bakers grossing less than $25,000 per year.

Tricia Schuetz, owner of Tricia’s Bake Shop, has fostered a passion for baking since she was a child, working in her grandparents’ Chicago bakery. Even after the bakery closed, she and her siblings would bake several pounds of cookies at home and give them to family and friends, she said.

Schuetz finally decided to take the plunge and start her own baking operation last year, but said there’s an overhead in Wisconsin she doesn’t want to pay.

Wisconsin and New Jersey are the last two states with a ban on homemade baked goods that requires bakers without a storefront to rent a space in a commercial kitchen and subjects all of them to annual licensing fees.

Schuetz said she has only a “farmers market customer base” at this point, so the litany of fees on top of driving 20 minutes to a commercial kitchen in Dousman with a carload of her ingredients and paying $15 per hour to bake is wearing on her.

“The business end is new to me,” she said. “It’s been difficult with all the start-up costs. To add another cost on top of everything else for a license to bake is just ludicrous.”

Not including ingredients, the monthly cost of operating Tricia’s Bake Shop is between $400 and $500, she said, which takes a lot of cookies to break even.
 

Two baker bills

The “Cookie Bill” passed a Senate vote earlier this week and will head to the Assembly, where it has bipartisan support. But if two nearly identical bills proposed in past years are any indication, it’s still unlikely to pass — or even get a vote.

The bill passed the Senate twice before, but did not come up for a vote on the Assembly floor, where it was likely to pass. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, RRochester twice, hasn’t scheduled the bill for a vote because it “creates an unequal playing field,” said Kit Beyer, Vos’ communications director.

But after a Lafayette County judge ruled the current homemade baked goods ban unconstitutional last month, Vos introduced another bill — the Bakery Freedom Act — that eliminates licenses for all bakers and would bring “current law in line with the new ruling,” according to a memorandum from his office. It’s unclear if Vos’ bill would allow sales of home-baked goods.

Vos himself is a small-business owner, of Rojo’s Popcorn in Burlington.

Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, and Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukesha, said they weren’t familiar with either of the proposed bills and hadn’t yet decided how they would vote.
 

A space to bake

Some bakers without storefronts would still opt to use commercial kitchens if the cookie bill passes, like Amber Yelk, owner of Sassy Sweets.

“Unfortunately, I get wedding dessert orders for 280 cupcakes and cheesebake balls that I just don’t have space to make in my kitchen,” she said.

But the elimination of license requirements would be a huge weight off her, Yelk said.

“The licensing aspect of the business always scared me. I even postponed starting while I figured all of that out,” she said.

Mark Knudson, owner of Pop’s Kettle Corn, has a storefront in Muskego and rents his kitchen to fledgling bakers who need a space. He said he knows how hard it is to find a commercial kitchen that don’t charge a pretty penny, so he only charges for utilities to eliminate unnecessary “monetary blocks” for Wisconsin bakers.

Email: hweikel@conleynet.com