Kelly Pittman’s kitchen is stocked with sugar, butter, almonds, walnuts and chocolate so she can make batches of toffee to sell each week. Prior to last week, however, the owner of Kelly's Toffee had to rent the kitchen at Maxx Pizza Co. on Kalmia Street in Murrieta to cook her products.
Because of a California law that went into effect Jan. 1, Pittman and other home-based chefs can now sell certain foods created in their home kitchens. The California Homemade Food Act established "cottage food operation," a new category of food production.
The statute, which eliminated many hurdles for home-based chefs, requires counties to establish standards for cottage food makers and requires them to be licensed to sell baked goods without cream, custards, candies, dried fruits, cereals, herbs, nuts, meat fillings, roasted coffees and dried teas made in a home kitchen.
After the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health issued Pittman’s business a permit on Jan. 23, Kelly's Toffee became the first registered Cottage Food B operator in the city of Murrieta, said Dottie Merki, the county's environmental health program chief.
Pittman, who established her business in 2009, said she is excited to now be able to prepare and cook her products in her own home.
“I’ve been waiting for years for this law to be passed,” Pittman said.
The Murrieta resident began the license application process a few weeks after the law went into effect. She applied for the more stringent Class B permit so she could sell her toffee directly or indirectly to a third-party retail food facility. Class A operators are exempt from annual inspections unless there are consumer complaints about their products. They are also only allowed to sell products to an established clientele or at events.
Because Pittman was the first Class B permit applicant in Murrieta, the health department used her home as a training site, and five inspectors checked her home, products and cooking equipment.
“I was the first in Murrieta to go for a Class B permit, and so I did a lot of reading and a lot of research on what I needed to do,” Pittman said. “It was kind of nerve-wracking but it was fun. They were very helpful, very nice.”
With her new permit, Pittman can distribute and sell her toffee within Riverside County. She will save money from no longer having to pay kitchen rental fees, and because she can cook from home at any time, she also plans to increase production.
“It gives me a lot of freedom and a lot of flexibility,” said Pittman, a mother of two. “I don’t have anything to lose. I’m not opening up a kitchen. I’m not going through a big expenditure of opening a business. This is perfect. I can make it what I can and develop it.”
Pittman, also a substitute teacher for Murrieta Valley Unified School District, began making toffee as gifts for people. They soon requested toffee to give as gifts to others.
“People started ordering for it for the holidays and teacher and parent thank-you gifts,” she said. “It just kind of evolved.”
Today, Pittman is selling her products to customers beyond the school campuses. Kelly's Toffee is already available at Occasions in Murrieta and Ponte Winery in Temecula, and Pittman hopes to eventually offer her products at other retailers.
“I love people’s comments and the feedback from when they get their toffee and taste it,” Pittman said. “It makes you feel good knowing that people are enjoying it.”