Cristina Tovar started Flourbud Bakery out of the kitchen of her Manorville home. NewsdayTV's Rachel Weiss reports. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

When Dena Bocchino was growing up in Queens, her grandmother baked without measuring ingredients or making a guest list: Everyone was always invited to the dining room table.

“The kitchen is where everything happened,” said Bocchino. She would finish homework at the table and watch her grandmother do what she loved: Cooking, and welcoming anyone in their Flushing neighborhood to come in, sit down and eat.

“It was always about nurturing through food,” she said. “That was such a wonderful way to grow up. And I guess I’m just passing it along.”

Bocchino runs her business, Big Nena’s Kitchen, out of her home in Commack. Plenty of Long Island chefs work out of their own kitchens and sell their treats at farmers markets, general stores or via pickup and delivery services. Without a brick-and-mortar store, word-of-mouth is even more important, and chefs have to make their spaces work for them.

Cristina Tovar, Karen Davis and Dena Bocchino started food businesses from their homes. Credit: John Paraskevas, Debbie Egan-Chin, Morgan Campbell

To get started, chefs must register for a home processor license through the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. The license allows chefs to prepare food from home to be sold wholesale and/or retail. There is no fee or expiration date for the license, but since it is location-specific, you would have to reapply if you move to a different house.

According to the department website, the license applies to foods “where there is not a history of food borne illness and the nature of the product makes the possibility of illness less likely.”

All food products prepared at home must be prepackaged and labeled there, and chefs should consult with their zoning officials before starting a home-based business, the website also states. Home chefs also recommend getting liability insurance before selling at farmers markets.

But for these working cooks, their passion began — and continues — at home.

Flourbud Bakery

Cristina Tovar, owner of Flourbud Bakery, transformed her kitchen to support her business. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Cristina Tovar said it took about a week for her to go through the licensing process, which involved filling out an application on the state website, providing a list of products she would like to sell and looking over the restrictions, and submitting it for approval.

Tovar runs her business, Flourbud Bakery, out of her kitchen in Manorville.

She and her husband bought their house in 2018. Tovar was working as an executive pastry chef at a golf resort in Westhampton Beach. She never thought she’d be using her own kitchen for work, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Flourbud Bakery was born.

There was a bit of a learning curve while transitioning from a professional kitchen into her own.

“No two ovens are the same,” said Tovar, 34. “Especially using a home oven that’s not a convection oven. The baking times would change, and it was like I was teaching myself how to bake all over again.”

Tovar transformed her Manorville kitchen into a professional one to support her business. Credit: John Paraskevas

Tovar bakes ciabatta, sourdough and focaccia breads. She also specializes in croissants (classic, almond and chocolate flavors) along with danishes, including a seasonal tomato and goat cheese variety. She grows many of her own vegetables, too.

“Everything is made from scratch,” said Tovar. “I like to use local produce when I can. Long Island has the best bounty of produce farms in this area.”

As for her workspace, it started out as a standard kitchen. She was just working with her oven and refrigerator. When the business took off, Tovar had to expand. She bought a planetary mixer and a convection oven, which has taken her former oven’s place. 

Tovar has also added an additional refrigerator and freezer. She and her husband, Jose, created a 4-by-10-foot pantry out of space that wasn’t being used in their kitchen, and it houses  many of her dry ingredients.

Tovar's kitchen includes professional equipment like a 24-quart commercial grade mixer.

Tovar's kitchen includes professional equipment like a 24-quart commercial grade mixer. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

And, of course, the kitchen’s butcher block is where she gets most of her work done. Above it, she pins orders from customers for the week, including when and where they’ll pick them up (either at her home or a farmers market).

“I find there’s a bit of a surprise that it’s all baked from my home and everything's made from scratch,” Tovar said. “And business has been good to me; I can’t complain.”

Tovar sells at the Eastport General Store and the Port Jefferson farmers market. She plans to open a storefront this year in East Moriches and expand her menu with savory items, like sandwiches and salads.

“Once you have a storefront, you can’t produce anything at home and bring it to the store,” she explained. “But I will continue to do farmers markets, for sure. I’ve met a really good group of customers and other vendors, and I’d still enjoy doing those.”

The Waffle Chic

Karen Davis, owner and creative chef of The Waffle Chic in Lynbrook. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Karen Davis  works out of three kitchens, but none are restaurants: A rented commercial kitchen in Lynbrook, a food truck and her home in Westbury. 

But the roots of her business, The Waffle Chic, track all the way back to her native island of Jamaica.

“We started our business out of a volunteer project we did,” she said. “We’re still a part of it; it’s a nonprofit organization that does mission trips to Jamaica.”

Davis and her family took part in a brunch fundraiser in 2017, cooking up chicken and waffles as part of the menu. They volunteered again and again, until finally, “we decided to go for it and turned it into a business.”

The Waffle Chic started out as a catering service in 2019, mainly serving chicken and waffles. 

“I realized waffles are not just a breakfast or brunch food you can pair with chicken,” Davis said. “They’re really universal. You can pair it with whatever you can dream of.”

Davis, with customer Taneeya Alexander at The Waffle Chic, works out of a rented commercial kitchen in Lynbrook, a food truck and her home in Westbury.

The menu now includes waffle tacos (two wafers served with chicken, beef or fish), shrimp and waffles, a waffle BLT and a jalapeño Cheddar waffle burger. They’ve also evolved the chicken and waffles offering, with a Caribbean spiced jerked chicken and waffle combination.

To brainstorm these dishes, Davis, who is a registered nurse, spends late nights in her home kitchen.

“The best time is at night, when everything is quiet and everyone is out of my way,” she said with a laugh. “And I can think a little bit more. It’s more conceptual. Mostly, I just visualize the menu items.”

Then, in the morning, Davis presents her new creations to her family, asking for their opinions. Her kitchen includes a waffle iron, food processors, a deep fryer, air fryer, plus mixers and blenders.

The business is mostly run out of the commercial kitchen, which is open Friday through Sunday. Customers can either pick up their orders from there or get it delivered, but there isn't an official counter setup. The Waffle Chic also offers catering.

“It facilitates a better workflow,” Davis said. That’s why she hopes to open a restaurant someday.

The Waffle Chic began as a catering business in 2019.

The Waffle Chic began as a catering business in 2019. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

“Our goal is to find ourselves in a brick-and-mortar space,” Davis said, “where we can serve the community better and continue to do our catering, which is the main staple of what we do. We want to continue to bring our unique food to our customers, to change the way catering is done: From traditional, everyday food, to what we have.”

But overall, Davis prefers to work in her home kitchen.

“It just provides me with a sense of familiarity,” she said. “But if you can create your space and outfit it with the things that you need, that's a great thing.”

Big Nena’s Kitchen

Dena Bocchino's baked goods are nods to her heritage. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Dena Bocchino, 52, whips up baked goods with nods to her Albanian and Lebanese heritage.

“My specialties are baklava, and I do a twist on that with a chocolate drizzle,” she said. “And spinach pies, like spanakopita, with a different spin on that.”

Bocchino also bakes cookies, such as a gluten- and dairy-free almond treat and a twist on a Linzer torte.

Like Flourbud Bakery, Big Nena’s Kitchen was a direct result of the pandemic. Bocchino teaches English at a middle school in Port Washington.

“I started thinking about farmers markets and how all of that worked,” she said. “And I did some research, since I had time when I was home.”

Bocchino's baked goods include nods to her Albanian and Lebanese heritage, as well as gluten- and dairy-free treats. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Beyond that, she said she’s learned everything she knows about baking just by watching her grandmother.

As far as equipment, Bocchino purchased an additional oven, two mixers and set up two pantries for her dry ingredients, which she’s labeled in containers.

The organization helps Bocchino stay on track, especially during the busy seasons.

“I would say the spring all the way through to the end of December is the busiest, because of all the holiday baking,” she said. “Then I take a little break because everyone goes on a diet for their New Year's resolution. That’s my vacation month, and time to experiment with new recipes.”

A full-time middle school teacher, Bocchino said her business started out because of the pandemic. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Now that she’s working as a full-time teacher again, and taking care of her 16-year-old son, Anthony, prime-time for baking is in the evening.

“And I enjoy the summer, since I have more time on my hands,” she said.

But Bocchino calls her bakery “a family business”: Her son loads up her car for farmers markets (right now, her products can be found at Deep Roots Farmers Market in Glen Cove), and her husband, Pat, washes the dishes, including heavy pans.

“I’m juggling being a wife, mother, teacher, baker, business owner and tutor,” she said. “There’s a lot going on; you have to be very organized.”

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