“It’s understandable that those trying to start a new business think of the regulatory process as obstructive,” says Champion. “In fact, there are very few people in the inspectional and regulatory world, and certainly not in Somerville, who are trying to stop you from starting something. But they have an important role to play in protecting the public interest and public safety.”
At any rate, it was clear the entrepreneurs needed to regroup outside the Journeyman kitchen. One possible direction they could have taken would have been to find a spot at a culinary incubator — a licensed, shared, commercial kitchen available to food start-ups at a reasonable cost. Champion says the city recommended a culinary incubator to the Lil Foodie team. But Fernald says that he was discouraged by the months-long wait list for space at a local incubator.
What the partners needed was a “shared-use kitchen” or “commissary kitchen,” and by plugging those terms into Google, they soon found a lead. Corinthian Hall, a function space in Melrose, was looking to turn its kitchen into a commissary. It was small and needed a few renovations, but with no regulatory obstacles to overcome, Lil Foodie was able to get the nod from Melrose within six days.
“It was just like opening up any other licensed food establishment,” says Ruth Clay, health director for the City of Melrose. By December, Lil Foodie was back on track and hoping to make its first deliveries later this month. A nine-pack of 4-ounce cups will be priced at $25, with no delivery charge. The food, brought to clients in a custom cooler with an ice pack, must be refrigerated immediately, so deliveries will be scheduled for early morning or evening to accommodate working parents.
Through the whole odyssey, the Astons and Fernald remained undaunted, with an unwavering belief in their product.
Today, Janine Aston is philosophical about those initial obstacles. “I think everything happens for a reason,” she says. “But I definitely say to myself, was there anything I could have known or should have known? I don’t know the answer to that.”
But she is sure of one thing: “There’s never a dull moment starting a business in Massachusetts — or anywhere.”
Lil Foodie of Boston www.lilfoodieofboston.com
Jane Dornbusch can be reached at email@example.com.