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Culinary event explores how to start or grow a food business

Chef demonstrates in kitchen
Northampton Community College
Chef Alan Pitotti, owner of Dolce Patisserie in Hellertown and an Northampton Community College culinary graduate, teaches as a chef in residence at the college in Bethlehem.

BETHLEHEM TWP., Pa. — If you've ever wanted to open a restaurant or start a food truck, convinced you have the perfect recipe or idea, but don’t have a clue as to how to go about it, you can find answers at a free event in April.

“A Taste of the Food Industry,” will take place 9-11 a.m. April 8 at Northampton Community College’s Alumni Hall, 3835 Green Pond Road, Bethlehem Township.

The event is part of a joint effort by Lehigh University’s Small Business Development Center, NCC, and Northampton County.

County Community and Economic Development Director Tina Smith said the event is part of a continuous partnership and efforts to provide small business and startup business training.

“It was created to support current or inspiring food and beverage industry businesses to start or provide ways in which they can grow,” Smith said.

Workshop attendees will have the opportunity to join panel discussions featuring expert speakers to learn what led others to success and what tools are needed to start and grow culinary ventures.

Participants also will learn about food safety and best practices, starting and running a food establishment, mobile food vending and culinary educational programs.

Beth Raynock
Beth Raynock, chef and owner, Local Mama Catering Co., is among of group of panelists who will tell their stories of success at, "A Taste of the Food Industry," April 8 at Northampton Community College, Bethlehem.

Panelists will include:

  • Liz Ortiz of Cactus Blue
  • Sarah Miller — Chef Night Tonight
  • Debi Rice — Fun-Nominal Events and Marketing
  • Chad Butters — Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Eight Oaks Farm Distillery
  • Beth Anna Raynock — Local Mama Catering

The event is open to the public and comes at a time when the Lehigh Valley is experiencing an unsettling shift in restaurant closings.

‘A mistake can be very costly’

One local entrepreneur knows first-hand all of the steps it takes to turn a personal food dream into a sustaining reality.

Frances Quinones-Mullen of Bethlehem knew she wanted to make her generations of family-inspired home-cooked Latin-fusion dishes available to the public.

Think chicken and pork carnitas, grilled wings and a sell-out: kicking cilantro lime green sauce.

Frances Quinones-Mullen
Frances Quinones-Mullen

“My mother taught me to cook," Quinones-Mullen said. "She was always in the kitchen, and I was right there with her."

She said she named the business after her father's mother, whom she affectionately called Panchitas.

“I barely knew this woman, but all the stories I heard — she was a fantastic woman," Quinones-Mullen said.

"She had nothing. She was so poor, but she would go to rich homes to ask for food and clothing and money to help other poor people — not for herself.

"She was humble. She didn’t see her own situation. She saw other people’s needs.”

Quinones-Mullen, 52, said she had been cooking and having friends over for meals for years. Now it was a matter of putting herself and her food out there as a business.

She said she knew it would not come easy. First, she needed funding.

"My mother taught me to cook. She was always in the kitchen, and I was right there with her. I named the business after my dad’s mom."
Frances Quinones-Mullen, owner of Panchitas Kitchen

Her biggest supporters — family, friends and her children’s friends — all pulled together and threw her a business shower. She provided the food. Everyone who came put in money toward her dream.

In October 2021, Quinones-Mullen created her business name and applied for her federal Employer Identification Number.

“That was the easy part, and it was free," she said. "Just to get myself started.”

Making it official

Next came the ServSafe class at NCC, which cost $155 plus book purchase costs.

Administered by the US National Restaurant Association, the food and beverage safety training and certificate program for business owners ensures they’re using the most up-to-date and effective food safety practices.

Frances Quinones-Mullen
Empanadas made by Panchitas Kitchen of Bethlehem can be found at Lehigh Valley festivals, cooking classes and pop-up shops at local wineries.

From there she became a Limited Liability Company, or LLC, through the IRS, which protects business owners and can run up to a few thousand dollars.

It was money well-spent in Quinones-Mullen’s eyes.

“I was scared that if something went wrong, I would be sued personally,” she said. “It’s a sad thing, because a lot of us don’t take those chances because we’re afraid to make a mistake. In small business, a mistake can be very costly.”

Her next — but certainly not last — step was Pennsylvania’s Business One-Stop Shop Hub, which helps business owners create profiles, documents and checklists, and quickly navigate other related information, according to hub.business.pa.gov.

“They help you with the big stuff, like helping you find a business name, seeing if it’s already being used, and registering your business,” Quinones-Mullen said.

'Do one step, get three more'

Next, she needed a business license, only available after getting a food license. That meant finding a commissary, where chefs with no brick-and-mortar can go to prepare their food for sale.

Running her business from home, she soon found out, was possible but required the city’s permission and another license.

“You do one step, you get three more steps,” she said. ”It’s never 'boom' all at once. You would never have a business if you knew how much it was going to take right off the bat.”

"It gets overwhelming. But once the opportunities start rolling, it gets better."
Frances Quinones-Mullen, owner of Panchitas Kitchen

After her first "real gig" was with Setter Ridge Vineyards, Panchitas Kitchen developed into private catering, pop-up spaces at area wineries and festivals.

She even taught others how to replicate her authentic carnitas at the college’s other teaching kitchen in South Bethlehem.

Because her business is so small, she relies on her family to help her. A food trailer would help haul all of the food and equipment she uses and delivers. There are builders of such trailers out there, but the cost runs $20,000 to $30,000.

“It’s been a lot," Quinones-Mullen said. "You do it as you can. There are lots of headaches.

“It gets overwhelming, but once the opportunities start rolling, it gets better. You’re tired, exhausted, but happy because you’re working with a smile on your face doing what you love.”