How to Start a Small Food Business

By Cayden Conor

  • Overview

    Starting a small food business is a bit more difficult than most other businesses due to licensing and zoning issues and the inspections you must undergo before opening your doors. Once the business is started, depending on your location (state or county, sometimes even city), there are quarterly or biannual inspections that you must pass. The inspectors will come out to your establishment to make sure food is properly dated and stored, that the kitchen and dining areas are clean, and that the employees are properly dressed (they must wear their hair up and wear gloves when handling food).
    • Step 1

      Decide on a business name. If you are opening a business where you sell food, such as a small convenience store, you just need a business name, unless you choose to sell only certain foods, such as vegetables and fruits or ethnic foods.
    • Step 2

      Register the business with the division of corporations in your state. Choose the proper entity for your business. Most food businesses can register as a corporation, limited liability corporation, partnership or sole proprietorship. Each entity has its pros and cons, and only you can choose what is right for you. Research on each type of entity can be done on the IRS website.


    • Step 3

      Apply for an employer identification number through the IRS. This can also be done on its website for most entities. Apply for a sales tax certificate with the state's department of revenue. Depending on the state, this application may be available online.
    • Step 4

      Get the various state, county and city licenses needed for the food business. These vary from state to state, and even from county to county. The minimum you will need for any state is a certificate of occupancy, a license from the department of agriculture and, if serving liquor, a liquor license. Make sure to check with all the local governmental entities (city, county and state) for various requirements.
    • Step 5

      Purchase any equipment needed, if not already in place in the location you chose. If you are opening a restaurant, you will need (at a minimum) a walk-in cooler, walk-in freezer, convection oven, standard oven, range, grill, deep fryer and various racks, pots, pans, dishes and utensils. Once you are set up, you will be ready for your first inspection.
    • Step 6

      Contact the local authorities to complete the inspection. Once you have completed the inspection, you are ready to open the doors.
    • Step 7

      Contact local wholesalers to obtain inventory. Check prices for various places to find the wholesaler who offers the best price for the best quality. Once everything is set up and you are ready for the grand opening, order enough dry goods for the first two weeks. Order enough refrigerated and frozen foods for the first week. Make sure you keep an inventory list to work from--as you use the food, keep track on how fast you go through it, so you can get a better idea of how often you will need to order certain items.
    • Skill: Moderately Challenging

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