Metro-East News

June 10, 2014

'Keep Calm and Eat a Cupcake': Quinn signs bill in Troy girl's kitchen

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the "cupcake bill" in the kitchen where it all began, with 12-year-old baker Chloe Stirling and her family looking on Tuesday.

The signing had the atmosphere of a neighborhood block party, with dozens of people in the Stirlings' Troy home -- and a lemonade stand in the driveway, operated by Chloe's little sister Sophie. The governor bought two cups of lemonade on his way into the house.

Flanked by state legislators and the Stirling family, Quinn signed the bill that made Chloe's baking business legal again.

"I'm happy I'm going to be baking again, and happy that other home cooks can bake again without getting in trouble like I did," Chloe said.

Lawmakers drew up House Bill 5354 after the Madison County Health Department shut down Chloe's cupcake business. Chloe was making about $200 a month selling cupcakes she made in her family's kitchen, and was featured in an article in the Belleville News-Democrat on Jan. 26.

The health department then received a complaint from an adult who had wanted to start a home-based cooking operation. A day after the article ran, the county health department called the Stirlings to say Chloe had to shut down her operation, since her family kitchen did not meet the commercial standards required by state health codes. They would have had to put an addition onto the home and construct a commercial kitchen in order to meet standards.

Thousands of people wrote letters to their lawmakers legislators when word got out about Chloe's situation.

"We're here not only because of Chloe's initiative, but the popular will that grew up from an upsurge," said state Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton. "There were thousands asking, 'What is it with government that this girl cannot make a cupcake and sell it?'"

Cue the legislation: the "cupcake bill" prohibits state and county health departments from regulating home-based cooking operations as long as monthly sales do not exceed $1,000 and buyers are informed that the items are homemade.

The bill did not have clear sailing; most health departments expressed opposition, and representatives from Madison County's health department testified against it. The bill also was revised to add about $200 in licenses and fees, as well as requiring a two-day class in food handling.

That version was rejected by the state Senate, which then approved the original, simpler bill without the additional requirements.

Chloe herself testified before committees in the House and Senate. She even brought cupcakes to lawmakers in Springfield.

Quinn and other lawmakers said the repercussions of the bill extend beyond youthful bakers to focus on entrepreneurship and grassroots startups.

"The opportunity to start a business might be in your own kitchen," Quinn said, calling it a "very important law."

"The success story isn't today," said state Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville. "It's 10 to 12 years from now, when Chloe has her own business with 10 to 20 people working for her."

The whirlwind took Chloe from testifying before the state legislature to the Rachel Ray cooking show, as word spread nationally. "It's like nothing I could have imagined," Chloe said.

The Stirling family still has the design plans for that second kitchen, but they haven't made a decision yet for "Chloe's Cupcake Kitchen," her new business name. "I'm hopeful we won't have to (build an addition), but Chloe's gotten so many generous donations of appliances, and we don't have room for them," said her mother, Heather Stirling. "We're re-evaluating for our best options ... but before this, we didn't have any options."

Quinn signed the bill in the Stirling family kitchen with several pens, the first of which went to Chloe. She traded him a chocolate cupcake, while wearing an apron that read, "Keep Calm and Eat a Cupcake."

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