A civil suit seeks to reverse the nation’s only state law against selling baked goods from home

By Tim Nelson
Updated February 13, 2018
Credit: photo by Lisa Pines via getty images

Like many states, New Jersey has its share of odd laws and legal quirks. While most are little more than a minor curiosity or an occasional inconvenience, one particular ordinance is now the subject of a lawsuit by local home bakers hoping to put some more dough in their pockets.

In New Jersey, it’s illegal to sell baked goods for a profit unless you own a proper commercial kitchen. After a Wisconsin judge declared that a similar state law was unconstitutional earlier this year, the Garden State is now the only place in the country that forbids at-home entrepreneurs from turning their confections into cash.

To a mom like Heather Russinko, whose cake pops caught on quickly in the community after making them for school functions and friends, those restrictions cost her an estimated $20,000-$30,000 a year in potential income. "It was crushing because I always wanted to have my own business. I believe in creating your own destiny and being self-sufficient," she told CBS News.

Current state law requires a commercial license in order to sell baked goods, which necessitates a commercial-grade kitchen that cannot be attached to one’s home. For some like Russinko, those startup costs are prohibitively expensive. Locals have lobbied the state legislature for nearly a decade to try to get the law changed, but to no avail.

Those efforts have been stymied by State Senator Joe Vitale, who chairs the New Jersey senate’s health committee. His concerns stem not from a desire to shield existing bakers from competition, but from the enforcement of public health standards. “I've spoken with bakers and bakeries and they've said we don't care,” he told CBS News, "I'm just asking that there be some level of inspection to ensure that public health standards are met.”

For now, a civil suit filed against the New Jersey Department of Health seems to be the only path forward for bakers hoping to make a buck from home. There’s no timetable for a legal decision, but Russinko says a victory would let her start selling her cake pops again in the hopes of saving up enough to open up her own storefront. Hopefully once that’s settled, they’ll sue to allow you to pump your own gas next.