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Sweet taste of victory

Cupcake coup changes the law to allow home baking businesses 

“Let them eat cake.” That was Jennifer Lopez’s plan for customers at The Cake Mom & Co., the home-based baking business she was set to launch in Paducah when she moved back to her hometown from Missouri in 2013, but she soon discovered it was going to take a revolution of sorts to legally take her talents across the state line. 

“It was doing really well,” Lopez says of her Missouri enterprise. “It got to where I was making quite a bit of money with the cake business.”

But in Kentucky at that time, her cakes were contraband, and she could get busted for baking.

The commonwealth was one of only a handful of states that didn’t allow residents to start a baking business in their home. 

That changed last year when the Kentucky legislature passed House Bill 263. It became law, thanks in part to Lopez, who founded Kentucky Home Bakers to raise awareness of the issue and collaborated with the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based organization that seeks to limit the size and scope of government, to help push through the legislation.

The bill amends existing law to expand on the home-based processor program that permits anyone to sell processed fruits and vegetables, jams, jellies, syrups and homemade baked goods—“non-potentially hazardous,” shelf-stable foods that require no refrigeration. 

The Food Safety Branch of the Kentucky Department for Public Health has received occasional complaints since the program’s inception 16 years ago, and only two complaints since the July 2018 law, according to a spokesman for the agency.

Previously, only farmers or those who grew their main ingredients could be home processors. Now, the program includes non-farmers, laying the groundwork for home-baking businesses to prosper.

The change lifted many restrictions on the venues where home bakers can sell their goods—transactions from home, online and at community events are now legal. Prior to HB 263, they could sell only at farmers markets, roadside stands or from their own farm.

2019 amendment expands home bakers’ law

HB 468, which amends the home-based processing law, was enacted in March of this year’s legislative session, opening the market to even more non-potentially hazardous foods, including spices, dried herbs, nuts, candy and dried grains.

The 2018 HB 263 unintentionally excluded these items. Technically, the sale of the aforementioned products was never legal, but they were widely sold and enforcement was lax, according to an aide to state Rep. Richard Heath. 

As the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which includes the Department for Public Health, updated its regulations, many home processors were notified that they must discontinue selling these goods because of that exclusion.

The 2019 update fixed that. It requires home processors to register with the cabinet, which now has the regulatory authority to add to the list of approved foods as it sees fit, and caps income derived from the home businesses at $60,000.

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Lopez is thrilled to be baking out of her home once more, turning out multi-tiered, sculpture-like cakes, but she hasn’t forgotten the financial hardships she endured before the recent legislation. 

A single mother at the time she moved back to Paducah (she’s now married to Jose Lopez, a Jackson Purchase Energy Corporation employee), she couldn’t afford a retail space for her business, so she was forced to get a low-paying fast food job to make ends meet.

She says it was frustrating to have a skill that she couldn’t legally use to support her family. Her hands were tied instead of her apron strings.

“A co-worker who saw one of my cakes was amazed and asked ‘Why aren’t you baking cakes instead of working here?’ and I said, ‘because I can’t.’”

Bakers rise up

There was only one thing to do—organize a cupcake coup.

Assisted by the Institute of Justice, the Home Bakers descended on Frankfort in January 2018, armed to the teeth with cakes, cookies, cupcakes and other homemade treats designed to “sweet talk” Kentucky lawmakers.

Rep. Richard Heath of Mayfield took notice as he nibbled a cake pop, and he became one of the bill’s co-sponsors. The home baking issue was close to his heart.

“In the 1970s, my older sister was a stay-at-mom with two kids. She liked to bake to earn some extra money, but she got shut down,” Heath says. “I thought it was unfair, and I didn’t understand why. When this home-baking issue came to me, my mind went back to the ’70s, and I saw it as an opportunity to correct an injustice.”

Kentucky Home Bakers continued to go to Frankfort with their treats for subsequent committee meetings and were there when the bill came up for a vote.

In July of last year, they relished the sweet taste of victory. The bill became law.

So why would Lopez go to such great lengths to pave the way for her business and for many other home bakers? 

Sure, she welcomes the income, but she says there are less tangible reasons.

It’s a bride’s smile on her wedding day, a child’s joy on his birthday, the pleasure of contributing to someone’s celebration.

“I love art, and this is edible art,” Lopez says. “I like to see it all (the cake) come to completion and fine-tune all those little details that go into it. But what I really love is walking in with a cake and getting a big reaction and seeing that I’ve made the customer so happy.”

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