Starting and running a food business
Starting a food business - Bodega Bagels
Bodega Bagels is a bakery producing New York-style bagels and cream cheese spreads. The business began in the garage of founders Steven Orr and Kirsty Winter. Less than five months after opening, Bodega Bagels expanded to employ eight additional staff. The business at first sold its products through an online order and pick-up service and now has a weekend pop-up at the Banana Block, a museum and events space, in east Belfast.
Steven tells us about the process of starting a food business, including registering, following food hygiene rules and where to find advice.
“We decided to start Bodega Bagels during the lockdown. We realised how much better our homemade bagels were compared to supermarket versions and saw a gap in the market in Northern Ireland.
We considered how to sell our bagels – we opted to sell in advance via our website for customers to collect at the weekend.
East Belfast Enterprise helped us by recommending we do the Go For It programme, and from it, we moved to the Kick Start programme that offered mentoring support. This assistance gave us confidence to develop a business plan, which led to a grant to buy an industrial oven.”
Registering our food business
“Registering our business wasn’t as hard as we thought. I learned about the process by searching online. Baking bagels is relatively low-risk, with no hot food, no raw meat and very few allergens, making the process much easier. Talking to the Environmental Health Officers (EHO) from Belfast City Council showed me that it wasn’t as scary as it seems – most of it is common sense.
If you run a registered food business, you must have a plan based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles. This plan considers and manages potential risks to food safety. I found helpful templates online and was able to create a system that was manageable but also detailed enough to cover all the legal requirements.”
Food safety and hygiene
“For Bodega Bagels, food hygiene is mainly about having a clean cooking facility and environment. We use wipeable surfaces, hand cleaning facilities and protective clothing to reduce any chance of contamination.
As we’ve grown to produce spreads and cold bagel fillings, we record our deliveries and storage and temperature-check our fridges.
Understanding allergens and ensuring our customers are aware of these is a priority. We publish allergen information on our website and display it on site. All new staff are trained on the dangers of cross-contamination and are aware of any risk items we sell – they also know how to mitigate those risks.
Online courses are a good source of guidance – the short Level 2 Food Hygiene certification covers most of what you need to know.
The council Environmental Health Officers are the single best source of information. Our EHO is only a phone call or email away and is always on hand to offer advice and guidance. The Food Standards Agency are also really helpful and always open to giving advice. They want you to succeed - they don’t want to trip you up.”
Growing our business
“Bodega Bagels has gone from being based in our garage to having a weekend pitch at Banana Block and ten staff. Our growth has been rapid and we don’t plan on slowing down. In time, we hope to do more than just weekends and expand into catering and wholesale.
The best compliment we hear is an American customer telling us our bagels are on par with bagels in NYC and the best they’ve ever had outside of New York.”
Steven's Top Tips:
“Reach out to the Foods Standard Agency for advice early. They will guide you on what is safe and legal before you start.”
- “Find your niche or a unique selling point. Northern Ireland is becoming a great foodie location - there are so many new cuisines popping up, but thousands of food types still aren’t represented here yet.”
- “Get online. Start doing online pre-orders, selling via social media and collaborating with other food start-ups. You can achieve much with little to no budget, and if your customers are online, you should be too.”