Cottage kitchen industry growing in Southern Nevada

Six months of gathering her materials for the state and $200 after she started, Brittany Henderson sat at her computer and read the email that turned her kitchen from a laboratory for her brand of mother-focused cookies into a legitimate business.

Under the name Milk Pillows, Henderson could now bake and sell from her home in Summerlin. She had registered with the state. She rewrote her recipes into the desired units of weight.

She had perfected her labels for customers checking what’s in her specialty cookies, designed to help mothers with breastfeeding.

And her customers will know the cookies came from one of the first licensed so-called cottage kitchens of 2017.

“It was a lot of work,” she said.

Since cottage kitchen licenses became available in Nevada in 2013, 245 active local licenses have been logged, according to Southern Nevada Health District data.

In that same time, the district has investigated 330 complaints of illegal food vendors. A black market of sorts for unlicensed chefs using their kitchens commercially exists in the valley, with cooks selling their food online through websites like Craigslist and in forums on social media networks like Facebook.

Since 2013, the district has investigated fewer complaints of illegal food vendors each year, according to its data. In 2012, the district investigated 174 complaints, a six-year high. Every year since 2013, the percent of complaints later found to be invalid has increased.


But people selling food from their homes or online without a license is still a real issue, said Stephanie Bethel, spokeswoman for the Southern Nevada Health District.

The health district issues the permits to show a cook handles food safely and has an appropriate kitchen, Bethel said.

When someone operates without a license, the health district is not allowed to go into their houses. Instead, the district opens an investigation and can issue a cease-and-desist order. The health district can work with the county or individual cities if necessary.

“It is important that people who are hiring a caterer or people who are purchasing food from an online vendor check the health district website for information about recent inspections,” Bethel said. “If there is no recent inspection report, the vendor does not have an appropriate permit.”

Fewer investigations in a year might be because of too few staff and a lack of ways to punish vendors the district catches, said Kris Schamaun, district senior administrative assistant. The district doesn’t track these unlicensed vendors because it can’t impose any enforceable actions or fines, Schamaun said.

District records show investigations have taken district staff to stores, private homes, apartments and around hotels and casinos.

In one April 2013 incident, a possible illegal food vendor turned out to be staff catering an event.

In January 2014, representatives from a farm that had existed in Idaho for more than 100 years had

been told to get proper permits or have its Southern Nevada farm store shut down.

As for the cooks at home going through getting a license, district data shows 63 percent of those active licenses went to companies with a Las Vegas address. Henderson addresses account for 22 percent of those licenses, and North Las Vegas addresses account for 10 percent.

Newly issued licenses peaked the year after their creation with 81 active licenses issued for 2014. The number of active licenses issued per year has gone down, with 58 issued in 2015 and 52 issued in 2016.


In one Facebook group dedicated to the sale of homemade food and snacks, members post photos of quesadillas listed for $7, a dozen oysters listed for $10. Sometimes they offer to deliver. Sometimes they list their home addresses for pickup points.

Those who spoke to the Review-Journal about how they got into cooking and selling food without a license declined to do so on the record because they’re afraid to get into trouble.

One woman said she was denied a license and is afraid that people thinking she cooks without one will hurt her chances of ever becoming legitimate.

She said people cooking at home illegally can’t get a job outside the house because they watch children, they’re disabled or they’re in the country illegally. She does it to have more money to care for her family.

“I’m not going to clean rooms all my life,” she said.

The issue has proven divisive among culinary professionals. One restaurant owner declined to speak on the record for fear that he would alienate friends and customers associated with people who cook at home without a license.

But he criticized home businesses as ones that take away business from him, cheat the government out of licensing revenue and put eaters’ health in danger.

“This is a free country,” he said. “But you have to follow the rules.”


As Max Jacobson-Fried recalls, even the issue of licensed home cooks proved controversial in the valley and around the state.

The owner and manager of Freed’s Bakery said brick-and-mortar business owners can get frustrated thinking a home cook doesn’t pay the same amount in taxes and fees or invest as much money in insurance, commercial cleaning equipment and staff.

Jacobson-Fried takes a middle-of-the-road view. He is glad people have the chance to break into the food business. But at the same time, competition is high in the valley. Weeks ago, he lost two cake orders to someone who told the would-be patrons the cake could be made cheaper, he said.

“That’s a reality of the business,” he said. “We’re all creating products for the same group of people.”

Luckily for Freed’s, the bakery’s recipes have found a following after more than 50 years in business, he said. He visits baking and bridal expos to stay up-to-date on trends and equipment and belongs to a network of bakers who talk about industry trends nationwide, including cottage licenses.

“Like all things, it’s a gray area,” Jacobson-Fried said.

Brittany Henderson, one of the first home cooks licensed in 2017, got interested in cooking from home so she could take care of her son, Holden, almost 3.

She started out giving friends her cookies, then friends of friends. Henderson heard about the cottage license while at a farmers market, where she may return to sell her Milk Pillows cookies, with flavors like chickpea snickerdoodle.

Henderson is willing to rethink her business if she can’t get a return on the cost of ingredients and a sitter when she has to travel to the market to sell cookies. She can’t ship cookies within the state or take payments online, a process that makes Nevada’s cottage license less attractive than ones in other states, she said.

“It’s frustrating,” she said. “There are a lot of trade-offs.”

If all goes well, her sales will fund recruiting a manufacturer to help her step up production, she said.

“That’s my dream.”

Contact Wade Tyler Millward at or 702-383-4602. Follow @wademillward on Twitter.

Auto repair shortage affects Las Vegas
The auto repair industry is facing a national shortage of workers.
Franchising industry booming
Experts say Las Vegas is a hotbed for the franchise industry.
Africa Love owner talks about his store in Las Vegas
Mara Diakhate, owner of Africa Love, gift and decor store, talks about his store in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Developer gets approval to build homes at Bonnie Springs
The Clark County Planning Commission has approved a plan to build 20 homes on the site of Bonnie Springs Ranch. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dig This opens new location In Las Vegas
Remember when you were a kid and played with construction toys in the sand box? Dig This Las Vegas has the same idea, except instead of toy bulldozers, you get to play with the real thing. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Town Square developer Jim Stuart building again in Las Vegas
Las Vegas’ real estate bubble took developers on a wild ride, something Jim Stuart knows all too well. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Salon opens at Veterans Village
T.H.E. Salon, owned by Nicole Christie, celebrated their opening at the Veterans Village with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Southwest Airlines considering Las Vegas-Hawaii flights
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly says the airline is "very focused" on Hawaii. Hawaiians have a strong presence in Las Vegas.The city’s unofficial status is “Hawaii’s ninth island.” In 2018, at least 2,958 people from Hawaii moved to Nevada. Of those, 88.7 percent moved into Clark County, according to driver license surrender data. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, 310,249 people came to Las Vegas from Hawaii in 2018.
Fewer Nevadans are celebrating Valentine's Day
Fewer Nevadans are celebrating Valentine's Day. About 1.2 million Nevadans are expected to celebrate this year, a 5 percent drop from 2018. A growing number of people consider Valentine’s Day over-commercialized. Others weren’t interested in the holiday or had nobody to celebrate with. But spending is expected to rise. Those who do celebrate are buying for more people. The average American is expected to spend about $162 this year for Valentine’s Day, a 57 percent jump from a decade prior. Katherine Cullen, director of industry and consumer insights at NRF
Foreclosures of mansions in Las Vegas
Las Vegas was ground zero for America's foreclosure crisis after the housing bubble burst. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rick Helfenbein talks about the impact of tariffs on the clothing industry
MAGIC fashion convention showcases men's clothing trends
The MAGIC fashion convention has come to Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to showcase some of the hottest clothing trends for men. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Allegiant Air flight attendants learn how to handle a water landing
Field instructor Ashleigh Markel talks about training prospective flight attendants for Allegiant Air getting live training with a raft for a water landing at the Heritage Park Aquatic Complex in Henderson on Monday. (John Hornberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks about the new Smith & Wollensky restaurant coming to the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian in Las Vegas.
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks about the new Smith & Wollensky restaurant coming to the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian in Las Vegas.
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery talks about Las Vegas return
Michael Feighery, CEO of Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group, discusses the restaurant's upcoming return to the Las Vegas Strip.
Apartments to Come to Hughes Center
Developer Eric Cohen discusses his current building project at the Hughes Center office park in Las Vegas, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Stratosphere to rebrand to The STRAT
The Stratosphere, a 1,150-foot-tall property in Las Vegas will be renamed The STRAT Hotel, Casino and Skypod.
Local designers’ picks for the Las Vegas Market
The trends that local interior designers are noticing at the Las Vegas Market this year. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trends in bath products at Las Vegas Market
Camille Herd, the showroom manager for European Bath Kitchen Tile & Stone, talks about the popularity of free-standing bath tubs. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Kitchen trends at Las Vegas Winter Market
Las Vegas Winter Market displayed kitchen trends that mirror common dining accessories at Strip eateries. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Emerging trends in gifts at Las Vegas Market
Julie Smith Vincenti, curator for the First Look showroom tour on gifts and lifestyle, talks about the emerging trends in those categories for this season. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Las Vegas house prices are rising
Southern Nevada home prices were up 12 percent year-over-year in November.
Caesars Republic Scottsdale
Caesars Entertainment Corp. is building its first non-gaming hotel in the United States in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Caesars Entertainment Corp.)
Interior designer Mikel Welch talks about trends for Las Vegas Market
Interior designer Mikel Welch, who also is the on-camera designer for TLC’s Trading Spaces, discusses the trends he sees for the 2019 Las Vegas Winter Market. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
SHOT Show 2019: MEGGITT Virtual Training
MEGGIT showcases its virtual training system at SHOT Show 2019 in Las Vegas.
MGM delivers 700 meals to TSA workers at McCarran
Chefs at Garde Manger at Mandalay Bay provided 700 meals to federal employees who are affected by the government shutdown. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
SHOT Show 2019: A "nonsemi-automatic” weapon
Brandon Dunham of Nevada-based Franklin Armory show off the company’s new rifle prototype it calls a “nonsemi-automatic” weapon. The gun does not use a gas system to fire.
Las Vegas-based concrete repair company knows how to beat the heat
ART Concrete Solutions, a Las Vegas concrete-repair firm, addresses the challenges of construction in the extreme heat and sun of Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas based company brings color to concrete in the desert heat
Semco Modern Seamless Surface, a Las Vegas surface engineering company, knows how to put color in concrete construction in the Vegas heat. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing