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Megan McStevens, owner of Pinkterton's Cake Bakery, assembles the finishing touches on her Swiss meringue buttercream chocolate cake in her Nelsonville, Ohio, home for a customer on the morning of Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020.

Local baking businesses endure, flourish, transition during pandemic

While some businesses have closed due to the pandemic, others have felt some unique benefits. 

About three years ago, Meg McStevens, of Nelsonville, made the move to Ohio from Montana for one particular reason: Ohio’s flexible Cottage Food Operations laws. 

McStevens has a love and passion for baking that has followed her throughout her career. As a Cottage Food Operation, McStevens, owner and operator of Pinkerton’s Cakes, runs her business out of her home. 

According to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, a Cottage Food Operation is defined as a person who, in his or her home, produces food items that are potentially non-hazardous and for sale. 

Potentially non-hazardous food items include bakery products like bread and cookies, jams, jellies, candies, fruit butter, among others. The foods must be labeled properly for sale, too.  A “Cottage Food Production Operation” is exempt from inspection and licensing by the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Though she was working from home before the pandemic, McStevens still found herself in unprecedented circumstances; her spouse lost his job and income. McStevens found herself the bread-winner of the family. However, her husband helps out by watching their 18-month-old son. 

Pinkerton’s received virtually no orders in March and April. However, business has “quadrupled” since then, McStevens said. McStevens finds that birthday cake orders are very common and that perhaps a nice cake makes up for an inability to traditionally celebrate.

“It does seem like a lot of people are really yearning for community and celebration, even if that's just within their families,” McStevens said. 

McStevens does cakes of all kinds and specializes in wedding cakes. She’s done 20 wedding cakes throughout the entire year – much more than usual, McStevens said. 

McStevens sees baking as more of an art than work. She has enjoyed crafting both unique cakes and strong relationships with her customers.

“I kind of look at it as an artist,” McStevens said. “I take a lot of pride in my work ... My cakes are kind of like my babies, so I like having such a close relationship with my customers from start to finish.” 

Despite enjoying the extra business, McStevens has found herself in some questionable circumstances during the pandemic; she often delivers the cakes she makes, especially if they are layered and intricate. 

“I stack on-site usually,” McStevens said. “It makes it necessary (sometimes) that I deliver. I always wear a mask, but once or twice I have felt really kind of looked at strange. It felt like I was the only person in the room wearing a mask.”

But Pinkerton’s isn’t the only business that has felt the unique impacts of COVID-19; Sunflower Bakery owner Liz Florentino is now moving her business into her home.  

Sunflower Bakery was a brick-and-mortar store – not a private domicile like Deep Roots Farmgirl Pies, owned by Melanie Linscott. There, Florentino sold a variety of baked goods, soups, sandwiches and more.

However, the retail location is no more. 

“In March, I had to close the shop,” Florentino said. “I tried to do some curbside pick up for a little while, but it was not feasible for me to stay there.”

After the pandemic hit, Florentino was the only one baking in the shop. It was difficult doing all the work, she said; from baking to prepping to packaging, she did it all – usually in just three days. She did curbside orders from the bakery on weekends; she closed in late September.

“It was a lot of work packed into a small amount of time, so that wore me out, and that's not sustainable,” Florentino said.

Exhaustion was a major reason for transitioning her business into the home, Florentino said – but so was rent. 

“Financially it wasn't sustainable, physically it wasn’t sustainable,” Florentino said. 

Moving Florentino’s business into her home was a lot of work. It took lots of sorting and packing away. 

“Fortunately, there’s a new business opening up in that space that will use the big equipment, so I didn't have to deal with that,” Florentino said. “But there was still tons of tons of stuff – shelving and boxes and packaging and all the food I could possibly bring home.”

Florentino still has access to a commercial oven. She still has her business license, too, until February 2021. Her oven at home, however, is a double oven – about half the size of a commercial baking oven.

As a recent transition to a Cottage Food Operation, she’ll be selling a lesser variety of goods. 

“Since I brought the business home, I'm kind of reinventing myself a little bit,” Florentino said. “I’m having to streamline what I make--trying to focus on things that are just the baked goods, not so much the other food.”

Like Florentino, Linscott felt the financial impacts of COVID-19 on her business. Linscott said that she went almost three whole months without baking – nor the income from it.

“For the first few months, I was not able to get my resources,” Linscott said. “I could not get organic flour and a number of items. I was not baking at all.”

Farmgirl Pies started in August 2019. Linscott sells her handmade organic pies at the Athens Farmers Market every Saturday. From March to late May, she wasn’t in attendance. But since returning to baking and selling, business has been fruitful. 

As a 15-year homesteader and mother of four, Linscott has enjoyed working as a Cottage Food Operation. However, she will soon be baking her Farmgirl Pies in a private retail kitchen space in the city of Athens. 

However, Linscott’s kitchen will be just that; it won’t be a retail bakery. There, Linscott will be able to bake more than ever before. 

“I’d like to expand my offering, and with the Cottage Food Laws, you're pretty limited,” Linscott said. “So, in order for me to be able to offer more of the items I wanted to bake, I just needed to kind of upgrade and take my business to the next level.”


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