by Maranda Vargas
Cal Poly Humboldt Biology Major Amelia Francis uses frosting and food coloring as an artist uses pigments, paints and glazes to create works of art. Her love of science and art has transformed into a home-based business selling delicious, mouth-watering cupcakes. Every cupcake is skillfully frosted to create a near-accurate representation of a flower. The artistic details offer far more than just a beautiful cupcake adorned with a frosting flower. The cupcakes and cakes at Barn Owl Bakery are delicious and that is not by chance, every recipe has been diligently planned and taste-tested to create a delectable treat.
Barn Owl Bakery is an approved California Cottage Food Operation, which means it sells home-made food prepared outside of an industrial kitchen. The California Homemade Food Act (AB 1616) allows for home-based culinary businesses to sell certain non-perishable homemade food products, so long as they register with the county, follow the approved Cottage Food Operations application process and are in line with procedures.
“I looked at all of the different rules that followed a cottage food operation and went: could I make that work? Yes. Could I make this work? Yes. Could I pay that much for permitting? Yes,” said Francis. “The more I mentally said ‘yes’ to the different aspects, the more I committed to doing it.”
The idea of creating a home-based business appealed to Francis for many reasons, a couple being that it offered the freedom to work for herself and have quality control over the product, while still allowing less financial risk than having a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Francis was finishing up her associate degree when she began the application process and testing recipes last fall. Barn Owl Bakery has been open for business, busting out delectable cupcakes and cakes since it was licensed as a Cottage Food Operation in May 2023.
“It’s very risky to be a business owner,” said Francis. “I did it as a Cottage Food Operation intentionally because you don’t have to pay for rent and utilities, all that stuff. It’s a lower risk, but it’s still risky.”
The Cottage Food Operation application process requires each recipe to be carefully written out with all the ingredients listed along with their precise weight. Next, the labels and information are mailed to the Department of Health to check and approve for licensing. Francis says the paperwork was fast; it was the process of creating the recipes and labels that required the most time. Once all the labels were submitted, they were approved quickly, and Barn Owl Bakery was open for business. She’s created recipes for products beyond cakes and frosting that she submitted for approval, but customer demands have kept her focused-on baking floral cupcakes and cakes.
“I thought that at most, I would sell like a dozen cupcakes every month or so,” said Francis. “I didn’t anticipate finding a niche in our community. I would rather bake myself than buy something that wasn’t as good as homemade! I had the thought, maybe there are other people in the community who like their baked goods to taste how I like them too.”
Francis has got the baking down to a science. Francis says the Food Network show “America’s Test Kitchen” was influential to her success as a baker. The educational cooking show explains the chemistry processes behind baking. She accredits having an understanding of the sciences to successfully adapting her recipes without wasting ingredients.
“I’d say understanding the science behind the ‘why’ in baking is vital if you are going to sell baked goods, because problems arise that you need to troubleshoot all the time,” said Francis.
Francis practiced diligently on frosting cupcakes as well as thoughtfully creating flavors for her recipes before opening for business. Of all the recipes she perfected, Francis says perfecting a frosting recipe that will please a wide range of tastes was the most challenging. A mixture of chemistry and personal creativity, Francis homed in on what makes a perfect cupcake with perfect icing on top.
“My favorite part is mixing in wet ingredients and seeing them all come together in one homogenous mixture, which sounds weird, but it’s very satisfying,” said Francis. “Yeah, it all becomes smooth with the correct temperature, and I know that it’s all on the right track and going to be perfect.”
Balancing the demands of running Barn Owl Bakery and being a full-time student takes structure and determination. Education has always been a top priority and focus for Amelia. That is one of the reasons why she embraced the idea of a Cottage Food Operation over a full-time business that would require her to take time away from school.
Before starting Barn Owl Bakery, baking was an outlet for creativity and a way to relieve stress. Francis had always felt a calling towards science and art. The flowers that adorn the cakes are little works of art themselves. Before baking as a creative outlet, Francis had taken several ceramics classes as well as a color and design class. Customers are spreading the word about her cakes and orders are filling up.
“I like to do all kinds of art,” said Francis. “If I feel stressed, I usually turn to baking. Baking has been my creative outlet to release stress, but now it’s also my work.”
Barn Owl Bakery has now taken on wedding cake orders and is booked out until the New Year. Perhaps the last chance this year to try some of Barn Owl Bakery’s delectable desserts will be on Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Harvest Artisan Faire held at the Eureka Veterans Hall. Barn Owl Bakery will have a table set up selling cupcakes, as well as several other treats that she hopes to offer in the future. There will be cake pops and cake slices, cocoa bombs and free samples at the event. New cake flavors such as vanilla latte and angostura orange will also be available. Appetizing flavors and nuances, as well as every visual detail has been artfully thought of in creating each treat that Barn Owl Bakery offers.
“It’s been amazing, and I’m so thankful for everyone that has supported me so far,” said Francis. “I love this community so much.”