Maria Winter is finally making dough from her dough.
After the Somerville Borough Council lifted restrictions on home bakers selling their creations, the full-time Readington math teacher’s side hustle baking custom cookies has been booming.
And now she offers cookie cakes and s’mores bars.
“As soon as it was legal, the staff members at my school started ordering from me, so it grew a lot organically from the start,” said Winter. “It picked up so much after September, but there is only so much I can take on because I do have a full-time job.”
Each week, she receives 14 requests for orders. Already, she’s saved $8,000 for her son’s college fund through her business, Dessert Heat Cookie Company.
For Winter, those cookies — in designs such as ice cream sundaes, rainbows, soccer balls and Nintendo Switches — are a taste of relief after more than six months of frustration.
In October 2021, New Jersey became the last state in the country to allow home bakers to sell their cupcakes, cookies, cakes, cake pops and more from home. It was a big change from when bakers caught selling even one homemade cookie faced up to $1,000 in fines.
Winter was stymied by a borough zoning regulation that home baking for profit was not a permitted use in the residential zone where she lives. That meant she had to go through the cumbersome process of going to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for approval, which could cost thousands of dollars.
Winter was told she needed a zoning variance, pay a $1,000 application fee, deposit $4,000 into a borough escrow account, publish a public notice in the newspaper and notify all property owners by certified mail within 200 feet of a public hearing on her application.
“I am very much a rule follower,” Winter says. “Even though it wouldn’t be my full-time job, I did want to get my permit so I could sell to friends and co-workers who had been asking for cookies. I wouldn’t say I had huge business plans, but I wanted to make sure I was doing it the right way.”
After MyCentralJersey.com wrote about Winter’s frustration to make a little extra money for her son’s future education, the Borough Council changed the ordinance to make home baking a permitted use and erased the bureaucratic maze she faced. Two other Somerville bakers now have their permits too, according to the state Department of Health Web site.
“It was such a frustrating process with all of the back-and-forth,” said Winter. “When it finally happened, it was just a huge sense of relief. It ended up being a whole year after New Jersey passed the law that Somerville finally passed the ordinance. So when it finally happened, we were happy to put all of that behind us and to finally get this small business up and running the right way, the legal way.”