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Because it’s strange and beautiful and hot, people from everywhere converge on Florida and they bring their cuisine and their traditions with them. The Zest celebrates the intersection of food and communities in the Sunshine State.

How to start a cottage food business in Florida: Lessons from the Lentil House

Two women wearing tan aprons stand in front of a banner for the Lentil House.
Sharlay Smith (right) is the founder and owner of the Lentil House.

If you have an idea for your own cottage food business, this episode will inspire you to take the next steps.

Sharlay Smith was teaching third grade when she had an “aha” moment that led to a career change.

A military spouse whose husband had recently passed away on active duty, Sharlay wanted a fresh start. In 2017, she was taking a class about cottage food businesses offered by the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). Her goal was to help get a friend’s business off the ground, but Sharlay ended up with a business idea of her own: fried lentils.

The Jacksonville resident fondly recalled cooking fried lentils with her mom as a kid, and after the snack was hit with her fellow teachers at a potluck, Sharlay knew she had something special.

That’s how the idea for the Lentil House was born.

The learning curve was steep, but Sharlay credits UF/IFAS with helping her find mentors and navigate complicated cottage food laws.

In Florida, a cottage food business is an enterprise that earns less than $250,000 gross per year. Cottage food purveyors may use a home kitchen to produce jams, breads, granola and other qualifying foods, as long as they adhere to certain guidelines.

Today, the Lentil House is so successful that it no longer qualifies as a cottage food business. It is a commercial business.

Sharlay sells her fried lentils in 30 stores throughout Florida, including Whole Foods. The snacks are also available at a handful of independent grocery stores across the country.

In this episode, Sharlay tells the story behind the Lentil House. You’ll also hear from UF/IFAS cottage food expert Amarat “Amy” Simonne, PhD. If you have an idea for your own cottage food business, this episode will inspire you to take the next steps.

For information on cottage food courses, contact your local UF/IFAS extension office.

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