Meet Five Orange County Cottage-Food Entrepreneurs and Their Homemade Creations

Cookie created by Amanda Bonzagni of Third Moon Bakery for OC Weekly. Photo by Federico Medina

For those unfamiliar with cottage food, the California Homemade Food Act passed a bill allowing the sale of certain homemade products deemed “non-hazardous,” including baked goods without the use of cream, custard and meat. The law allows for talented home bakers to create small-scale businesses from home—which in some cases can lead to brick-and-mortars.

Nearly 380 Cottage Food Operations have registered and obtained permits in Orange County since the bill passed in 2012. Here, we highlight five such individuals who are paving the way by offering delectable goods that range from sugar cookies to pies. 

Amanda Bonzagni of Third Moon Bakery. Photo by Federico Medina

THIRD MOON BAKERY
Amanda Bonzagni started Third Moon Bakery as a tribute to the ladies in her family. “Whenever my sister and I would be away from our mom, she would tell us, ‘Just look at the moon because I’m looking at the same one,’” Bonzagni explains.

Her almost 3-year-old company is also a tribute to the family matriarch, Linda Sontes. “I’ve been baking my whole life with my grandma,” Bonzagni says. “She would pick me up after school and teach me all the things.”

Of course, she did learn a few things from Orange Coast College, too, where she went through the culinary-arts and pastry-arts programs. From there, she landed a job baking for Pelican Hill Resort. But her dream was to work for herself, which came true in her one-bedroom Mission Viejo apartment in February 2016.

And each week, Bonzagni’s kitchen is taken over by hundreds of sugar cookies. In an ideal week, she’ll spend a day mixing and baking orders. The dough is rolled and cut on a peninsula—“I don’t have a kitchen island,” she explains with a laugh. “It’s more of a peninsula”—then placed in her regular-sized oven, which can fit two trays at a time. The next day is spent “flooding” the icing, then a day doing detail work. And on the fourth day, she packages. “My husband calls himself the packaging manager,” she says, “but he really just supervises from the couch.”

The artist at work. Photo by Federico Medina

Orders placed via her website (thirdmoonbakery.com) are picked up over two days from the parking lot of her apartment complex. 

Bonzagni’s creations are also available at farmers’ markets; Third Moon Bakery is a permanent vendor at Oak + Agave Market in Rancho Mission Viejo.

In addition to selling cookies, she also hosts cookie-decorating classes at her mom’s real-estate office. “It’s really nice,” she says. “There are big Apple TVs there, so you can see what I’m doing.”  

Bonzagni with her swoon-worthy cover art. (We love it!) Photo by Federico Medina

Though she has a support team—her husband, Derek Bonzagni; her mom, Mendy Pellegrino; her sister, Allie Moore; and her stepdad, Marc Pellegrino—Bonzagni is her only employee. The biggest challenge she faces, she says, is having to wear all the hats: doing the administrative work, such as ordering and invoicing; being the sole maintenance worker when equipment malfunctions; and baking and decorating orders. “When you’re doing this at someplace like Pelican Hill, there are 18 different departments, but at home, you’re on your own,” she says. “I feel like I get pulled in all the directions.”

But at the end of the day, is it worth it? “The freedom to be my own boss and make my own schedule has been life-changing,” she says. “And it is amazing to have a creative outlet where I get to style and choose all the designs.” (Patrice Marsters)

Rachelle Shin with her adorable creations at the Laguna Hills farmers’ market. Photo by Federico Medina

BUNJOUR BAKERY
Rachelle Shin’s character macarons bring a smile to your face before your first bite. Who can’t help feeling childlike glee at the mere sight of a colorful Rainbow Dash or big-eyed Mike Wazowski? But before starting Bunjour Bakery in Laguna Hills three years ago, she persistently worked to perfect standard macarons. 

“They were lopsided,” Shin admits of her first batches. “They didn’t look like macarons!”

Loving a good challenge, the baker studied the basics of the French pastry. She took order requests for kids’ birthday parties as the tasty treats earned a word-of-mouth reputation. Shin got her cottage baker’s license and opened a booth at the Laguna Hills farmers’ market. That helped the adorable eats attract a loyal following, especially online (www.bunjourbakery.com); Bunjour Bakery’s Instagram page is now nearing 10,000 devotees. She added a Saturday booth at the Irvine farmers’ market, and the bakery’s macarons can even be found at Catmosphere in Laguna Beach. 

Shin opts for the French method of macaron making that begins, for her, with cage-free eggs. “We age our egg whites for three days before we can start our work,” she says. When ready, the whites get whipped and ingredients are measured out. After the trays are finished baking, the macarons are filled with ganache made from scratch, then cooled to be carefully wrapped and packaged.

One of Shin’s sweet creations. Photo by Federico Medina

The cutesy character designs are offered in an array of flavors. In August, Shin debuted a new gluten-free churro macaron, with sprinkles of cinnamon sugar atop its swirl-shaped caps. Also available are the popular cookie dough and a passion-fruit-and-matcha “Oreo” with a homemade concoction that mimics the cookie’s famous filling.

For Shin, cottage baking is a family affair. Her two young sons always suggest a character or two, and those macarons often end up being a hit with kids at farmers’ markets.

As with many bakers, Shin declares a special love for Halloween, one that’s appreciated by her customers. “I do a lot of Jack Skellington macarons for Halloween,” she says. “Our pumpkin pie is super-popular, too.” (Gabriel San Román)

Kourtney Rojas spreads some crumbly goodness. Photo by Federico Medina

WITH LOVE, FROM SCRATCH
Only in-season fruits picked at their peak go into Kourtney Rojas’ home oven, where she bakes up pies in perfect, lush balance. No wishing for more crust or longing for more filling while eating a slice. “While pies can be intricate,” says the Anaheim-based baker/owner, “one of my favorite things about baking them is using my hands and simple methods.”

Her handwritten ingredient lists are blissfully basic, such as in this high-summer pie: all-purpose flour, granulated sugar, butter, eggs, salt, heavy cream, cherries, strawberries. The strikingly wide crisscross of crust is good enough to eat on its own, while being formidable enough to contain the mountain of succulent red fruit.

Baked with love. Photo by Federico Medina

“Thick lattice is one of my favorite styles,” says the mother of two. “One, I love crust! Taste is so important, and the thick lattice offers a lot of crust in each bite. Two, it makes for a beautiful, rustic-looking pie, and I absolutely love when there are juices peeking out through the lattice.”

Rhubarb is another specialty. “It’s important to watch how much sugar is added to the pie; you don’t want the sugar to overpower the tang. People who truly love rhubarb are looking for that.” Rojas has a secret source allowing her to offer that variety from spring through August. “My mom and grandma both have rhubarb plants,” she reveals.

Rojas, whose goal is to one day sell her pies at farmers’ markets, gives credit to her husband for keeping their work/kids/cottage-bakery life running with joy. 

Another masterpiece for the oven. Photo by Federico Medina

Most Saturdays, the whole family shops for seasonal fillings at the Orange Home Grown farmers’ market, where the kids push tiny carts while everyone enjoys vendor demos. Soon they’ll stock up with fresh finds for the holiday rush, when apple, pear, salted-caramel apple or pear, pear-cranberry, apple-fig, and blueberry will be in season. “Unfortunately, my cottage-food permit does not allow me to sell custard pies like pumpkin from my home kitchen.”

Too bad. Someday we’d love to sample her maple-pumpkin. Until then, check out her Instagram (@withlove.fromscratch) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/freshwithlove) pages for the range of collaborations possible, including messages with which to adorn the pie tops. (Lisa Black)

Domonic Keifer at the Hood Kitchen Space. Photo by Federico Medina

PIES BY DOMONIC
About a minute after I’ve started eating, half of the 9-ounce salted caramel apple pie is already gone. The crust is incredibly flakey and crumbly. The little cubes of apple are still really juicy. And the caramel is tasty without being too sweet. 

It seems impossible that the pie is vegan and gluten-free. But it’s true: The caramel is made from coconut sugar; the crust is baked with soy butter; and the flour is refined from rice, potato and tapioca.

Welcome to Pies By Domonic, where nothing contains dairy, gluten or animal products. In addition to the salted caramel apple pie, the company offers strawberry chocolate pie, pecan pie, peach cobbler, blueberry rhubarb pie, shepherd’s pie (made with mushrooms), bread, rolls, tiramisu and even whoopie pies.

Photo by Federico Medina

“My pies are made with fruits from local farmers and organic extracts, taking advantage of the real taste,” owner Domonic Keifer states on her website (piesbydomonic.com). “My goal is [to] create a simply enjoyable experience, where you don’t have to reread the label to make sure things are fresh, healthy or even edible.”

Keifer has been gluten-free for a decade and went dairy-free about six years ago. This move posed issues for her, though, because ever since high school, she baked to relieve stress. Back then, she used all the butter, eggs and flour typical to a baker. But about a decade ago, she started experiencing digestive issues with gluten, which forced her to re-evaluate how she bakes. “I know I’m having these issues,” she says. “Clearly, other people need this. Gluten-free baking has reignited my passion for cooking; I’ve had to be more creative.”

Keifer with her vegan, gluten-free pies. Photo by Federico Medina

Until recently, Keifer, who has a business degree from UC Irvine, was a cottage baker. But now, she and her husband, Robert, bake everything at the Hood Kitchen Space in Costa Mesa. (They also have a cooking blog on YouTube called Baking and Brewing With Bob and Domonic.) “Doing everything from home wasn’t good for my longevity because I want to have a home-work balance,” she says. “And the more we make, the better my margins are.”

Pies By Domonic creations are available online, as well as at Mother’s Market in Anaheim Hills and Laguna Woods. Keifer and her husband also recently started a new company, Divine Science Brewing (divinesciencebrewing.com), which bills itself as Southern California’s first 100 percent gluten-free beer. The Keifers’ very citrus-forward Third Contact IPA is made using rice and millet. Brewed in Riverside, you can find Divine Science beers at 70 locations, including Total Wine, Bristol Farms and a variety of local restaurants. (Anthony Pignataro)

Elyssa Fournier bakes up award-winning treats. Photo by Federico Medina

MIXED BAKERY
For Elyssa Fournier, baking was an activity she shared with her grandfather, a professional baker, when she was a little girl growing up in Anaheim Hills. Fournier moved to New York to be a teacher, but the stress of that job drove her to reconnect with baking as a form of therapy. Realizing her passion lay in pastries, she switched career paths, studying at the illustrious International Culinary Center (then known as the French Culinary Institute), then working in various kitchens in New York, at one point under the renowned Jacques Torres, before deciding to move back to Orange County with her husband in 2002. Fournier was the head pastry chef at Irvine’s Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine for five years before she decided to start her own small business. MIXED Bakery (mixed-bakery.com) was finally born in 2014.

Combining French and American baking techniques, Fournier bakes delicious brownies, tarts, cakes, cookies, scones, macarons and bread loaves to order. Through word of mouth and the occasional popup sale, Fournier’s pastry empire has grown considerably, with a Golden Foodie award and high praise from local news outlets under her chef’s hat. 

A dusting of magic. Photo by Federico Medina

Asked about her most popular baked goods, Fournier says her bourbon cookies are among her customers’ favorites (“I’ve been making them forever; even my dad will say ‘those cookies were worth paying for cooking school,’” Fournier quips). Chocolate-chip and shortbread cookies, brownies, lemon tarts, and her chocolate saucisson (a cross between chocolate and cookie dough, almost like a giant Tootsie Roll) are the most-ordered sweets, but Fournier is happy to whip up whatever a customer requests or attempt an alternate version for those with food allergies (her gluten-free brownies are just as amazing as the traditional kind). 

These days, Fournier operates MIXED Bakery single-handedly out of her home kitchen in Newport Beach, baking relentlessly—but passionately!—from early morning to late at night in between raising her family. “I could [bake] all day long,” Fournier says. While she currently works to make her ultimate goal of opening her own brick-and-mortar shop happen, she is enjoying her comfortable niche as a cottage baker, as her client base continues to clamor for her excellent artisanal pastries. (Aimee Murillo)

Yum! Photo by Federico Medina

7 Replies to “Meet Five Orange County Cottage-Food Entrepreneurs and Their Homemade Creations”

  1. Thats pretty cool but its very limited to only baked goids apparently. It wpuld be nice to expand the categories to include soups and dishes with meats.

    1. The basic license given to the bakers here prohibits selling items that spoil quickly without refrigeration. You won’t see much cream cheese frosting! So, that’s a big factor in not seeing more perishable stuff.

    1. One is Anaheim-based. Another has her products in the Anaheim Hills Mother’s Market and her gluten-free beer is in Total Wines and Bristol Farms, which are all over.

      We just focused on a few among many. All were very nice people who’d probably find away to get their products to loyal customers who aren’t mobile (if they have time). I bet if you did some nosing around you could find some cottage bakers near you, and they may be just as accommodating.

  2. Cookies from cottage licenses don’t allow meringue powder which is a main ingredient in royal icing for decorated cookies… is there around this is Orange County??? As a state law it’s not allowed but varies by county?! Is OC one of the ones that allow MP in royal icing for decorated cookies?? Or are they selling illegally?!

  3. Great article! Would love to see a future article highlighting some micro-enterprise home kitchen businesses once OC Health starts to permit it. Currently, only Riverside County is implementing the legislation, but I’m sure many other counties will move towards that direction in the coming years.

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