Take a look at the pictures of the building process here.
For today’s installment, I thought I’d walk you through my pure genius idea of talking my wife into taking a roughly 75% pay cut. Not only that, but I also convinced her it was a great idea to switch careers from a life as a teacher, to a year round profession. Sadistic? Perhaps. Masochistic? Probably.
So the year was, um, 2012. My wife had been deeply infected by the cookie bug. Thanks SugarBelle. After years of doing cakes, my darling wife decided to try these cookies that she’d seen online. And that, my friends, was all she wrote. Or piped as it were. She was absolutely in love with the art . And thanks to a Cottage Law in Maryland that lends itself much more to jams and jellies than custom made cookies, we had a dilemma.
Option #1 was to go “black market”. Which meant I’d have to buy a big van, a trench coat, and perfect my ability to go “Psst” as I waved people over to see the wonderment she created. Which actually sounds awesome now that I’ve written it down. Darn. Option #2 would mean to go legit. So once more we faced a set of options. We could find a commercial kitchen to rent as needed. To call those scarce on the Eastern Shore of Maryland would be an understatement. We could buy an existing building zoned commercially. At this point I’d like to remind you of the pay cut we’d be facing. So, it left us with the option we chose:
We built a commercial kitchen; a free standing building in our backyard. Obviously. But unfortunately, there is not a kit you can buy from Wilton to accomplish that. At least not yet. So we had to figure the whole thing out one piece at a time. And by we, I mean me.
Step 1: Cost analysis. A feasibility study if you please. What the heck is this thing going to cost? I’ve worked in commercial construction since 2006. I know a thing or two about it. Literally, that’s it, just 2 things. So I had a lot of questions. Thankfully, a good friend of ours is a home builder, and we looked to him for guidance. We discussed square footage and HVAC options, and in the evenings I scoured the internet researching commercial appliances. After a few months, we had the building, the permits and all the appliances costs factored in. The end result: A lot of dough. (see what I did there? Dough. I’m so painfully clever)
Step 2: The Regulations. I have never built a commercial kitchen anywhere else before, so I cannot speak to what regulations are elsewhere, but in Caroline County, MD you had better get comfortable with the Public Health Department building in Denton. The zoning department and health department are within 50 feet of each other, and there’s plenty of parking, so no worries.
Of the 2 departments, I spent much more time with the Health Department, so we’ll start with zoning.
It was extremely straight forward:
Me: Can I build this?
Zoning People: Sure, here are your applications and 9 permits you’ll need to pay for, and you’re all set.
Me: Sweet. (see, another cookie pun/reference. I’m here all week people.)
The Health department was more time consuming simply because there are SO many regulations when it comes to a commercial kitchen.
One pet peeve, part of the Health Dept’s areas was our septic. We were adding an additional “room” to the property and there was obviously going to be a lot of dish washing, so we had to upgrade our septic tank. We could have had 6 more kids with no issues (besides the mental healthcare I would require) but because of this extra room, BAM, $4,000 more dollars to the budget. But regs are regs, so let's move on.
Now the two women that I dealt with in the Health Department are simply wonderful to deal with. They really are. (Gail, Ashley if you’re reading this, I really mean it. Keep it in mind for future inspections). They were extremely helpful, but of course, they had no choice, as I used my secret weapon that all women are powerless against. The “helpless man in desperate need of saving”. You women fall for it every time. I simply wandered into their office, made frequent public announcements of my own ineptitude, and POOF, they were hypnotized into helping me. Like putty in my hands. All of my questions answered, every procedure walked through, and many other helpful things that have been deemed classified.
Oh, I forgot about the Soil Conservation District. This is sort of like an environmental office. We had another fee here too. I love government.
Step 3: The construction. All of the permits filed for, fees paid, materials bought. So construction began. It was amazing watching Amy monitor the progress. Like a child watching their father put together a swing set. You simply couldn’t get done fast enough so they could play. She was so excited to get in there, even when it was just a big hole in the ground.
Meanwhile, I’m now ordering all of those commercial appliances, sinks, baking racks, etc. I think I was personally responsible for a noticeable spike in the price of stainless steel. A few tractor trailer deliveries later and we were in business.
I’ll spare you the trials and tribulations like needing to get the refrigerator repaired as soon as it was placed in the kitchen. Or how I had to buy at least 3 spigots before everything lined up for the 3-basin sink. But it was all worth it.
The shop is done, she is beyond happy with it, and cookies are being baked as I type this. Now, for my next project, I’m thinking an underground disco in the front yard.