I don't think I've ever explained the origins of our name in this blog, so I probably should correct that omission now before I share this week's story.
Our name is an acronym made up from the products and services that we offer. (Why an acronym? The blog post on registering trading names in Victoria, Australia is coming...). We sell Coffee, Cake, Crochet and Knitting - CCCK! (Actually, we sell wool, yarn, cotton, tea, coffee, biscuits, knitting needles, crochet hooks, buttons and other stuff, but WYCTCBKNCH & OS wasn't particularly catchy or memorable. Looked like I'd been beating my head against the keyboard - which, after three hours of dealing with the Dept of Justice, was a distinct possibility!).
Anyway - coffee, cake, crochet, knits. CCCK. Great name for a shop. Opened the shop. Got the wool and accessories for the crochet and knits part. For my next trick, I had to organise food and beverages for the coffee and cake part.
Do I need to tell you that this is where it all went slightly sideways? In case none of you have ever dealt with a local council or run a business, this is where it all went slightly sideways.
Before you can serve food and beverages in Australia, you need to convince the state and local governments that you will not kill or maim anyone by doing so. This is a very good thing, because without proper regulation, we'd all be in strife, but it seemed to me that the whole process was a mite complex for what I was trying to achieve.
*I rang the council for information. Yep, no worries, it would be posted to me straight away.
A week later, I rang the council for information. Yep, no worries, it would be posted to me straight away.
A week later, I rang the council for information. Yep, no worries, it would be posted to me straight away. (Rep from * four times.)
Six weeks after I opened, I got the promised information. The first thing I noticed was that it was extremely comprehensive. The next thing I noticed was that all the kitchens in the example photos were very new and shiny... For those non-Melbournians reading this blog, most of Northcote was built in the 1800s. The houses and shops are old and full of character. The kitchen here looks like it was added on to the building in the 1940s or 1950s. It is old and full of character, but the floor is plywood (nailed to what looks like the remains of the original back verandah) - the cupboards are painted ply - there are no tiled surfaces and the louvre windows, although barred to prevent thieves, do little or nothing to prevent dust. It is not easy to clean. It does not meet modern sanitation standards. When I offered to cook my bloke a meal one night, he reacted as if I'd pulled a gun on him ("You cook in there?") and he spent the evening carefully checking his meal for signs of life when he thought I wasn't looking. In short, if I was going to serve food, it looked like the kitchen was going to be a problem.
I filled out my food safety template on the Victorian government website and submitted it, together with a hand-drawn plan of my shop and a cheque for the application fee. Here's where I have to say that the Darebin Council did a sterling job - I got a call within two weeks of submitting the application and had a food safety inspector at the shop a week later.
I showed him the kitchen.
He assured me that he'd seen much worse and regaled me with anecdotes about shops where he'd found dead rodents in pies, cockroaches in bread and other things too horrible to contemplate. Needless to say, I wasn't that reassured to find out that I was only one tiny step away from slumhood!!
The food safety inspector carefully explained each of the problems with the current kitchen. The floor needed to have a tiled or linoleum surface with coving up the walls so that it could be cleaned properly. I needed a double-bowl sink to wash and sanitise dishes. I needed tiles or stainless steel on the wall behind the sink so that I could clean it properly.
I nearly forgot to add - at no point was I actually planning to prepare food from scratch. As a cook, I make an awesome knitter. The plan was always to buy in cakes, bikkies and snacks from a commercial bakery, with plunger tea and coffee. The revamp of the floor, the new sink and the tiles had to happen so that I could wash dishes in my kitchen without creating a public health hazard.
A final word of praise for the council: I explained that the kitchen looked as it did because (judging from available evidence) my landlord is a tight bastard who won't pay out for renovations. I further explained that, having sunk most of my available cash into stock, I didn't have enough money to renovate the kitchen myself. So we worked out a compromise.
I now have permission to serve tea, coffee and individually wrapped biscuits. The tea and coffee must be instant and made out the front using an electric kettle (because I'd have to wash a plunger). I need to sanitise the kettle regularly, but can do that safely in the shop. The tea and coffee must be served in disposable cups with disposable spoons (because I can't wash cups in the current kitchen). I can serve prewrapped food and if someone gets food poisoning from it, that's the manufacturer's problem.
Believe it or not, I consider this to be a happy ending. The food safety inspector was very reasonable and made every effort to work out a solution that was safe and met legal requirements, but that didn't wipe my business out by requiring expensive renovations. I spent yesterday ringing around to find eco-disposable crockery, decent instant coffee and tasty biscuits. Hopefully before next week's post, we will be living up to our name, serving tea, coffee and tasty snacks to happy knitters, crocheters and crafty folks!