Alexandria, VA – Do you remember a year ago when you couldn’t find yeast, vanilla, sourdough starters, or most baking essentials anywhere? One year later, the pandemic has not gone away, but stores are fully stocked and kitchen cabinets are full again.
Home cooking and baking provided a creative outlet and stress reliever for many people, but some home bakers have taken it a step further. They are selling their wares. For three Alexandrians—Liz Fenwick of The Little Caker, Julia Denne of PG Neighborhood Goodies, and Amanda Socci—baking and selling the delicious results of their efforts became a way to power through the pandemic.
Starting a commercial food business usually requires many steps, including protocols, licensing, and inspection, but selling food products from home is much easier in Virginia. Thanks to the Virginia Cottage Food Law, first enacted in 1999, home cooks and bakers can legally sell certain baked goods from home and skip the arduous government process.
“Essentially [the Cottage Food Law] is like an exemption,” says Liz Fenwick, “because it covers foods that are low risk and there is no inspection or licensing required.”
“Low risk” is defined as food that can be stored at room temperature for at least 72 hours. Baked goods are low risk, which may explain why so many home bakeries have popped up during the pandemic. Amanda, Julia, and Liz’s products include cakes, cupcakes, and breads. In addition to being low-risk and Cottage Law approved, carbohydrates are for many people the ultimate comfort food.
Liz Fenwick, The Little Caker
Liz Fenwick of The Little Caker found her finances and family blossoming in her kitchen. “This has been a great source of extra income,” says Liz. “I get to do things on my own time, prioritize being a mom, work on my schedule, and stay safe.”
Liz worked as a cake decorator at Baskin Robbins when she was 17. Her job quickly became a hobby, but as an adult, the hobby fell to the wayside. It was only when she posted her son’s first birthday cake on Facebook and people started reaching out that her hobby returned with gusto.
“It snowballed,” she says. The Little Caker started creating cakes for friends and family, but the community got word of Liz’s creations and now you can find them—cakes, cupcakes, cake pops, cocoa bombs, cookies, fun holiday treat boxes, and custom designs—on social media.
Liz used Instagram to document her cake journey as she learned more skills and created more masterpieces. On Father’s Day of 2020, she started designing treat boxes, “and then it just blew up!”
With an explosion of popularity, Liz was added to the Alexandria Curbside Dining Facebook page and she snagged several orders over Christmas for her hot cocoa bombs. Which led to more followers on Instagram and Facebook and more custom cake orders.
Liz’s next goal is to turn The Little Caker into a storefront business.
Julia Denne, PG Neighborhood Goodies
Julia Denne was lost her job to the pandemic. For Julia and many others suddenly without work this past year, baking became a financial support and a new career path. “Starting PG Neighborhood Goodies has definitely helped me make more income,” she says.
Julia started baking as a child with her grandmother. She went on to earn a Baking and Pastries & Baking Science Associates degree from the Arkansas Pulaski Technical College. Still, she never thought baking would become a career, much less home baking, but the pandemic changed everyone’s plans.
PG Neighborhood Goodies features cakes, cupcakes, brownies, cookie cakes, bread, salted caramel shortbread bars, cinnamon rolls, cheesecake, key lime pie, lemon bars, pie bars, seasonal desserts—and Julia creates custom orders, so if you have a request, she can bring your creation to life.
Julia finds baking fun and wants to keep it at home. Being local is the beauty of home businesses. Julia started PG Neighborhood Goodies from her home in Potomac Greens, hence PG in her company’s name.
“I’ve posted a few times on Alexandria Curbside Dining and definitely got way more business than I had before,” says Julia. “Most of the people in the group are local, which I appreciate the most.”
You can find Julia at PG Neighborhood Goodies on Facebook.
Amanda Socci is a “simplistic” home baker whose efforts provide unity and peace for her family. Baking is a family affair with her two daughters, 14 and 10, jumping right in.
“We would not have gotten so far into baking if it weren’t for the pandemic,” she says. “We always try to make the best of a situation, and food makes everyone feel warm and happy. We are grateful to have extra time to do this now.”
Amanda loves to experiment with her daughter Leoanna. At one point, she said, they had about “a million bananas.” What better to bake with a million bananas than banana bread? So Amanda and Leoanna developed their own recipe, which was a great success. Amanda and Leoanna keep on experimenting with recipes for brownies, pizza, soup, cake, and whatever else sounds delicious.
Amanda encourages her daughters to be entrepreneurial, so she advertises her banana bread on her personal Facebook page and Alexandria Curbside Dining. She recently began making Number Birthday Cakes and wants to advertise those soon. Or maybe right here.
Pandemic benefits, or the next normal?
The Virginia Cottage Food Law mandates that no catering can be done from your home, that no hot food can be sold from your home, and that you can only sell from your home and from farmers’ markets. Online advertising is also regulated, which is where social media has come in handy. The law states that home bakers cannot make sales online. However, online advertising is allowed.
The Alexandria Curbside Dining Facebook page has been a prime factor in boosting baking businesses and supporting restaurants in general throughout the pandemic.
Baking was a part of growing up for these three women, but if it weren’t for the pandemic, the Virginia Cottage Food Law, and their individual kitchen skills, they would not be where they are now—kitchen entrepreneurs looking to a bright future.
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