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Cottage food license gives bakers a chance to start small or turn a hobby into a business

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Jen Hickman arranged her individually wrapped baked goods at the Ledyard Farmers Market on Wednesday — peanut butter brownies, s'mores cereal treats, cookies designed like peaches, cookie bowls she says are a good vessel for ice cream, buckeyes that serve as a tribute to her native Ohio.

Her days are hectic, as she juggles a full-time job working at Sift Bake Shop as chocolatier for A.T.Y. Confections with baking for her own business, and also selling at farmers markets in Colchester, Bozrah and Stonington.

Hickman, 31, was a pastry chef at Foxwoods Resort Casino for 10 years but got laid off during the pandemic.

She wanted to work for herself and figured "it was time to go rogue" — and so Rogue Baking was born. Her goal is to eventually open her own bakery, but for now, she's one of 561 people across Connecticut with a cottage food license, according to the state Department of Consumer Protection. That's up from 545 a month ago, when The Hartford Courant reported on cottage food businesses.

The cottage food license allows people to sell food made in their home kitchens. To get a license, one must complete a food safety program and pay an application fee of $50, and those with a well must have their water tested.

If a license holder exceeds $25,000 a year in gross sales, they must move up to a commercial license. Cottage businesses can't sell food that requires temperature control, and among the prohibited items are beverages, dehydrated meat and fruit butters.

Phase one of a larger plan

Like Hickman, Lyme resident Jamie Jackson has the goal of eventually opening her own place, wanting to sell her sourdough breads alongside charcuterie and tea blends. Unlike Hickman, she doesn't have a culinary professional background: She has a degree in painting and drawing and used to teach art at Sacred Heart School in Groton.

Jackson, 34, started baking six years ago, when the older of two daughters was born. She decided during the pandemic that she wanted to work for herself and started Triangle House Bakery. She said her father, a business owner, told her to get her name out there and not have overhead before opening a storefront.

Jackson now has standing orders with some customers and sells to Long Table Farm in Lyme. She is busy enough to tell people no or next week, "and they wait; they come back," she said. People can order by messaging her on Facebook or Instagram.

On Friday morning, Jackson popped her roasted garlic and tomato focaccia in the oven of her triangle-shaped home while finished breads sat on a table: one with fig jam, caramelized onions, brie and rosemary; one featuring brown butter and garlic confit with herbs from her garden; and buns stuffed with potato, shallots and brie.

Fellow Lyme resident Marna Wilber is in phase one of her three-phase plan for her coconut macaroon business MarnaRoons. This involves baking in her kitchen and donating 20% of profits to the New Haven nonprofit Canal Dock Boathouse, of which she is chairman of the board.

Phase two is finding a commercial space, and phase three would be operating with an open hiring practice.

That means that anyone who is willing to show up on time and work can have a job, Wilber said, "so I don't care if you go into a methadone clinic in the morning, I don't care if you graduated high school, I don't care if you've been in jail."

Wilber, 53, said she had been working in communications for a large global manufacturer up until two years ago, when she lost her job in a reorganization. She took time off to spend time with her dying father, and then found that the pandemic put a damper on her job search efforts.

"Ultimately, what I decided was I didn't want to go back to the corporate world, and I have always been very entrepreneurial," Wilber said, going back to when she sold coffee and doughnuts as a child to people in line for gas during the shortages of the 1970s.

She's on the board of the Connecticut chapter of Conscious Capitalism, and she started thinking about how she could use her entrepreneurial spirit to provide people opportunities.

"I'm a mediocre baker at best, but I make really great coconut macaroons," she said. Her most popular is a macaroon with bittersweet chocolate and sea salt, and her seasonal flavor is a pina colada. Her signature MarnaRoon is a gluten-free chocolate cookie sandwiched with dulce de leche and a classic macaroon.

She sells at the Farmer's Market at Tiffany Farms in Lyme on Saturdays, and online.

From just-for-fun to business

Lyme resident Tonie-Marie Easter started making towers of French macarons — not to be confused with coconut macaroons — for fun and then thought they would be cool at weddings.

After getting her cottage food license early this year, she started selling her macarons on Instagram as Confections by Tonie-Marie, and she's done weddings, baby showers and birthday parties. She gets a lot of her customers through one of her best friends, who is a wedding photographer, and also sells at the Tiffany Farms market.

"I really have a ton of random jobs, so I'm always down to try something new," said Easter, 30. She now works as a personal assistant and has a 2-year-old, "so I'm always home anyway."

She makes classic macaron flavors like chocolate, vanilla and pistachio, but has also gotten creative with flavors like banana split, churros and Thin Mints.

Sara Holliday described her business making tea blends as "my peace; I love it. It's like a stress reliever." The Ledyard resident, 35, works full-time as the head teller at a Charter Oak Credit Union branch and has two teenagers.

She started making tea blends for friends, and now sells her blends as Thyme for Tea at vendor shows, Cow Bell Trading Post in Preston and Sweet Hill Farm in Gales Ferry. She grows a lot of the herbs in her garden.

Holliday sometimes does custom orders, and she said cider blends are coming soon.

Madisyn Dedrick said she started Chocolate Covered Love last summer, as a 17-year-old rising senior at Waterford High School, to save money for a car after she got in an accident and totaled her car.

"I'm a very artistic person, so me and my mom have been making chocolate-covered pretzels — it's our family tradition — ever since I was little," she said. Dedrick said her pretzels are a big hit, and she also makes chocolate-covered strawberries, which she delivers locally.

Now that she also has a job at Mohegan Sun, her business has slowed down, but she did make treats for graduation parties and would like to open up her own store someday.

Other cottage food businesses, like BellaCakes & Confections, specialize in elaborate custom cakes for parties and weddings. Some other cottage food businesses in southeastern Connecticut include Carried Away Cakery, Little Book Bakes, and Simply Sweet by Elana.

e.moser@theday.com

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