We support the small business owner.

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{In my email last week I had a little blurb about not being able to be at the farmers markets because we were not compliant with new state statutes. After talking with some of you, it turns out that I was too cryptic and I need to clear things up. Below is the full story.}

“We support the small business owner.”  That was a phrase I have heard several times in the past couple of weeks from county commissioners, bureaucrats, supervisors and inspectors. In fact, I started hearing that phrase 2 days after I just invested all our cash on hand into purchasing raw coffee beans. Again I heard the phrase just after I was told I could not roast coffee until I have a $6,000.00 commercial kitchen installed in our warehouse.
Before I started Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee last year, I checked out all the rules and regulations to make sure I was compliant with all the laws in the State of Nebraska. Importing coffee and roasting coffee falls under USDA regulations. There were absolutely no regulations from the state, county, or city for roasting coffee. So with the help of my specialty coffee consultant, I established industry best standards for storing, roasting and packaging coffee so we could offer the best product possible.

On Monday April 29th I got a call from the Omaha farmers market stating I did not have a health permit from Douglas County. I explained that I did not need a permit because serving coffee at a farmers market does not require one. My wife even forwarded the Farmer’s Market rules from the Douglas County Health Department’s own website where it specifically states it in the 2nd paragraph http://douglascountyhealth.com/images/stories/food/FARMERS%20MARKET%20GUIDELINES%20032013.pdf

After making several calls to the Douglas county health department, I was told on Thursday, May 2nd that I needed to install a commercial kitchen at my warehouse and until it was done I could not roast any coffee for the Farmer’s Market. I called my lawyer to see if I had any options. It turns out that the state of Nebraska made sweeping changes to the laws in the middle of 2012 which now requires me and every other roasters and beverage companies in Nebraska to have a commercial kitchen. It really would have been nice for them to let us know.  We called around to find that other business are still operating in the old system and are also oblivious to the new laws so we are definitely not alone.

I had to make a decision. I could try and get permission to continue operating, which would involve paying my lawyer to write a letter requesting a “temporary variance” and wait for an answer and then still have to pay the expense to install a commercial kitchen? Or, believe the plumbing contractor who looked me in the eye and told me he could have it done in 2 days.

I needed to make sure that it was possible to add a commercial kitchen to our warehouse. So, I spoke with the health department inspector and made an appointment for him to come out Monday the 6th to give me a list of everything I needed to qualify for a permit. Well, he could not make it on Monday and I had to wait till Tuesday afternoon. I finally got the list, called the contractor and got to work on Wednesday thinking it would all be done and approved on Thursday the 9th and I could roast into late that night and be making money. Let’s just say that on Friday the 10th the plumbers left and nothing was connected.  We are now hoping for them to finish by the morning of May 14th!

My wife loves to look at the bright side, “Well, at least we will be the first roaster in full compliance to the new laws.”, she said.  We have tried to figure out what we will do with all of our new sinks (3 stainless dish sinks, a new hand sink to add to the 2 we already had and a mopping station sink) since roasting requires no water and the water we use for brewing and rinsing airpots are all bottled water.  I guess we should start keeping fresh flowers in our warehouse so we have a reason to turn on the faucet every once in a while.

We have currently lost 2 weeks of anticipated Farmer’s Market income, with a chance to lose a third week. People have asked me “what can we do to help?” One answer is….buy a bag of coffee on line to help us pay for all of this.  For those of you who believe in prayer, we would greatly appreciate that first and foremost.  We do trust that God will work it all out and we will be the better for it.  As our pastor once said, “It is true that when God closes one door, He will open another BUT it sure is hell in the hallway.”


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