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ON THE LINE/Operations/North Carolina Commercial Kitchen Requirements

North Carolina Commercial Kitchen Requirements

The licenses and permits needed to open a commercial kitchen and how to go about getting each of them.

What are the requirements for a commercial kitchen in North Carolina?

Starting a commercial kitchen is an exciting venture that can turn your culinary passion into a thriving business. However, before you get cooking, it's crucial to tackle the legal side of things. Understanding the required licenses and permits is essential for ensuring a successful and compliant food business.

In this guide, we'll take you through the necessary licenses and permits needed to launch your commercial kitchen. From health department approvals to fire safety compliance, we've got you covered, so you can confidently pursue your culinary dreams within the bounds of the law. Let's dive in and ensure your commercial kitchen is set for success.

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Advantages of a Commercial Kitchen versus a Traditional Restaurant

Cost-Effective Solution

Compared to opening a full-fledged restaurant, starting a commercial kitchen can be a cost-effective solution for food entrepreneurs. By renting a shared kitchen space or partnering with an existing food facility, you can significantly reduce initial overhead costs, allowing you to focus your resources on refining your menu and building your brand.

Flexibility and Scalability

Commercial kitchens offer the flexibility to adapt to changing demands and the ability to scale your operations as your business grows. You can adjust production capacity based on seasonal fluctuations, catering orders, or expanding delivery services, giving you the agility to meet customer demands effectively.

Navigating the Food Delivery Boom

With the surge in food delivery and online ordering platforms, commercial kitchens are becoming increasingly important to the food delivery boom. By operating a virtual kitchen, also known as a ghost kitchen, you can tap into the vast market of customers who prefer the convenience of ordering meals at their doorstep, without a traditional physical location.

A Platform for Food Businesses

Commercial kitchens have become a thriving ecosystem for food businesses to collaborate and grow together. By sharing kitchen spaces, you'll have the opportunity to network with other food entrepreneurs, exchange ideas, and possibly collaborate on special events or cross-promotional campaigns.

Testing Ground for Concepts

For aspiring chefs and culinary entrepreneurs, a commercial kitchen serves as an ideal testing ground for new concepts and menu ideas. You can experiment with different cuisines, food trends, and niche offerings to gauge customer preferences without committing to a full restaurant launch.

Required Commercial Kitchen Licenses and Permits in North Carolina

  1. Certificate of Occupancy
  2. Food Handler’s License, also known as Food Service License
  3. Seller’s Permit
  4. Catering Business License
  5. Food Facility Health Permit
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Certificate of Occupancy in North Carolina

What is it and why do you need it?

A certificate of occupancy is a document that shows your space is zoned for your type of business, as well as up to code, safe to use, and up to date on its checks and inspections. Not every county will require them for new businesses, and even then, only certain situations require them, including if you’re doing major building work or changing the use of a space from residential to business.

Always get in touch with your local jurisdiction to determine if your project warrants a CoO.

How to get a certificate of occupancy license?

The forms are online, but in order to get the certificate, your business location will need to go through fire inspections, plumbing inspections, electrical inspections, and building inspections. Check your local city or county’s building and safety department.

How much does a certificate of occupancy cost?

Different counties will charge different amounts, and they will also vary by type of business. Fee will vary depending on county.


License Name

Cost

Link

Certificate of Occupancy

Fees will vary depending on county

Check your local city or county’s small business department

Food Handler’s License in North Carolina

What is it and why do you need it?

A food service license, also known as an employee health permit, allows restaurants, vendors, or any other type of food business to safely sell and serve food onsite. These licenses ensure that every employee knows how to do their part to keep your diners safe from foodborne illness. They’re often referred to as ServSafe, after the company that administers most food handler’s tests, or as a North Carolina Food Handler Card.

How to get a food handler’s license in North Carolina

Every employee who prepares or serves food in North Carolina must get their Food Handler’s license within 30 days of being hired — chefs, cooks, servers, baristas, and bartenders, to name a few. Bussers and general managers may not be required to do so. 

And if managers have already gotten their Food Protection Manager Certification, they’re also exempt from getting a North Carolina Food Handler card. Some jurisdictions have their own food safety training programs and standards, so they’re exempt from requiring employees to get a North Carolina Food Handler card.

To get their food handler’s card, employees must pass a test about food safety and preparation with a grade of at least 70% (or higher in some jurisdictions).

How much does a food service license cost in North Carolina?

North Carolina state law requires that the test and license not cost more than $15, in order to make sure anyone working in a restaurant can afford to get certified.


License Name

Cost

Link

Food Handler's License

Up to $15 per employee

North Carolina Food Handler Training

Food Seller’s Permit in North Carolina

What is it and why do you need it?

Any business that plans to sell tangible goods that are subject to sales tax needs a seller’s permit. This permit allows them to charge sales tax.

How to get a seller’s permit?

You can register for a permit online through the SBA License and Permits portal.

How much does a food seller’s license cost?

There’s no fee to apply for a seller’s permit, but you may be asked to pay a security deposit to cover unpaid taxes if the business eventually closes.


License Name

Cost

Link

Seller's Permit

$0 (but a security deposit may be requested

SBA Licenses and Permits

What is the catering license businesses need in North Carolina?  

North Carolina catering business license costs vary depending the county, type and scope of the business but typically fall in the ranges listed below. In order to get your catering license in North Carolina, you should start with the link below.

Food Facility Health Permit in North Carolina

What is it and why do you need it?

All restaurants need to have their health permits in order before opening, and they must stick to safe food handling, storage, and preparation practices all throughout their operations. They help prevent foodborne illness in patrons, and ensure worker safety as well.

How to get a food facility health permit?

In North Carolina, health permits are under city and county jurisdiction, so check with your local health department to find out how to apply. 

Unlike some liquor licenses, health permits are not transferable. When you start a new restaurant, even if it’s in the space of an existing restaurant, you’ll need to get a new health permit. 

When you apply for a health permit, which can often be done online depending on the city, you’ll then need to get an inspection to ensure your space and practices will fit with the North Carolina Health and Safety Code and all applicable ordinances. If your business is determined to be safe to operate, you will receive your health permit.

How much does a food facility health permit cost?

As usual with city and county-based permits, the costs vary.


License Name

Cost

Link

Food Facility Health Permit

Variable, but typically hundreds of dollars or $1000+

Check your local health authority for on online application

Commercial Kitchen Requirements to Operate

Commercial kitchens have specific requirements to ensure they meet health and safety standards, and to optimize their functionality for efficient food preparation and service. The requirements may vary depending on the location and specific regulations, but here are some general guidelines:

Health and Safety Regulations

Commercial kitchens must comply with local health and safety regulations. This includes having proper licenses, permits, and inspections from relevant authorities.

Layout and Design

The kitchen layout should be well-planned to facilitate smooth movement and workflow. It should include designated areas for food preparation, cooking, storage, washing, and waste disposal.

Ventilation and Exhaust Systems

Commercial kitchens need adequate ventilation to remove heat, steam, and cooking odors. An exhaust system is crucial to expel smoke, fumes, and airborne grease particles.

Fire Safety

Install fire suppression systems like fire extinguishers, sprinklers, or suppression hoods above cooking equipment to prevent and manage potential fires.

Flooring and Wall Materials

The flooring and walls should be constructed with durable, easy-to-clean materials that comply with sanitation standards.

Commercial-Grade Appliances and Equipment

All cooking appliances, refrigerators, ovens, and other equipment must be commercial-grade and meet safety standards.

Handwashing Stations

Adequate handwashing stations with hot and cold water, soap, and paper towels should be readily available for staff to maintain proper hygiene.

Food Storage

Proper food storage is essential to prevent contamination and spoilage. Refrigerators and freezers must meet commercial standards.

Sanitation and Cleaning

Develop a strict cleaning schedule and use commercial-grade cleaning supplies to maintain a hygienic environment.

Training

All kitchen staff must receive proper training in food safety, hygiene, and the correct use of equipment.

Waste Management

Have an efficient waste disposal system in place to handle food waste and other trash.

Remember, these requirements may vary based on local regulations and the type of food establishment. Always check with your local health department or relevant authorities to ensure compliance with specific guidelines.

Types of Businesses That Use a Commercial Kitchen

Here are some common reasons why someone would use a commercial kitchen.

Restaurant or Food Service Business

Restaurants and other food service establishments use commercial kitchens to prepare and cook food for their customers. These kitchens are equipped to handle high volumes of food production efficiently.

Catering Services

Catering companies need commercial kitchens to prepare large quantities of food for events, parties, weddings, and other gatherings.

Bakery and Pastry Production

Bakeries require specialized equipment and ovens to produce a wide variety of baked goods in larger quantities.

Food Trucks and Mobile Vendors

Food trucks and mobile vendors often utilize commercial kitchens to prepare their menu items before taking them to different locations for sale.

Meal Preparation and Delivery Services

Businesses that offer meal preparation and delivery services often operate out of commercial kitchens to prepare meals for their customers.

Food Manufacturing and Processing

Large-scale food manufacturers and processors need commercial kitchens to produce their products for distribution and sale in stores.

Test Kitchens

Food companies, recipe developers, and culinary schools may use commercial kitchens as test kitchens to experiment with new recipes and products.

Event and Banquet Halls

Event venues and banquet halls may have commercial kitchens to cater to the food needs of their guests during functions.

Institutional Facilities

Places like schools, hospitals, and nursing homes may have commercial kitchens to provide meals for their students, patients, or residents.

Food Pop-ups and Temporary Events

Pop-up restaurants and temporary food events often rent commercial kitchen space to operate during the duration of their event.

Trends Driving Commercial Kitchen Adoption and Future Growth

Food Delivery and Takeout Services

With the rise of food delivery apps and takeout services, many restaurants and food businesses sought to expand their operations without the need for a larger physical dining space. Commercial kitchens, also known as ghost kitchens or virtual kitchens, provided a cost-effective solution for these businesses to handle the increased demand for delivery and takeout orders.

Entrepreneurship and Startup Culture

The food industry has seen a surge in innovative startup ventures and food entrepreneurs. Commercial kitchens offered a low-risk entry point and testing ground for these businesses, allowing them to test their concepts and reach a wider audience without the financial burden of setting up a full-scale restaurant.

Specialized and Niche Food Businesses

Commercial kitchens allow niche or specialized food businesses to operate without the need for a full-service restaurant. These businesses can focus on their unique products and cater to a specific target audience.

Catering and Events Services

Catering companies and event planners increasingly rely on commercial kitchens to accommodate large-scale food preparation for weddings, corporate events, parties, and other gatherings.

Food Truck and Mobile Food Vendors

Food trucks and mobile vendors often utilize commercial kitchens to prepare their menu items before hitting the road for street vending and events.

Supportive Infrastructure

In some cities, there has been an increase in commercial kitchen facilities that provide shared spaces with all the necessary equipment and permits, making it easier for food businesses to operate legally and efficiently.

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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.

Jim McCormick