Ready-to-Eat Food Business Startup Guide

Market Research

Why is your food product better than all the others out there? It takes time to understand your product or service and learn about your market. Once you have this knowledge, you can begin to create strategies for where you will sell your product, how much you are going to charge, and how you will promote it. Here is a user friendly fact sheet on how to do market research from Penn State Extension: Marketing Your Own Food Product.

Business Wizard

New York State has an easy to use tool called Business Wizard. It takes about 10 minutes to answer some basic questions about your business. Based on your answers, you will receive a customized checklist of all of the requirements and additional information that applies to your business.

Registering your Food Business in Tompkins County

To file a business certificate in Tompkins County you must visit their office at 320 N Tioga St (the County Courthouse) and they will check their records to make sure no one is using the name you want to use. We have forms available online or in our office. There is a $25 filing fee. The forms are available online here:

Comprehensive General Liability Insurance

You will need to purchase comprehensive general liability insurance for your food business. It’s a good idea to go to call several insurance agencies to get quotes. Provide the insurance agent with the insurance requirements of CCE Tompkins teaching kitchen rental application (see page 4) as well as Cornell’s insurance requirements to make ensure that the right language is included in your policy. The average annual cost is $575.16 for this type of policy, with ranges between $400 and $600. If you plan to cater events at Cornell, you will need to name Cornell University as an Additional Insured on your policy. If you plan to sell food in the City of Ithaca, you will need to name the City of Ithaca as an Additional Insured.

Worker’s Compensation and Disability Insurance

If your business has employees, you will need to obtain workers’ compensation insurance and disability insurance from your insurance carrier If required by law. If not required, you need to complete this waiver Workers’ Compensation and Disability exempt form CE-200.

Automobile Liability Insurance

Depending on where you are catering or food vending, you will need to provide proof of auto liability insurance, For instance, a minimum of $300,000 of coverage is required to rent the CCETC teaching kitchen space.

Food Service Permit

To sell your food to the public, you must have a food service permit. Call Kristee Morgan at the Tompkins County Health Department at 607-274-6688 and provide her with a brief description of your menu, cooking methods, methods for maintaining safe temperatures, intended kitchen facility use, distribution outlets and waste disposal plan (trash, water and grease). Based on your description, you will identify the type of permit you need and complete the appropriate application. Permit fees range from $65 for a one-day event to $400 for an annual permit with high risk foods. Your application must be submitted to the Tompkins County Health Department at least two weeks prior to your first event to avoid an expediting fee. The application will be reviewed, and if conditions of Part 14-2 of the New York Sanitary Code can be met, a permit will be issued. If your business has no employees, you will need to complete and submit the Workers’ Compensation and Disability exempt form CE-200. If your business has employees, you will need to obtain workers’ compensation insurance and disability insurance from your insurance carrier and submit these certificates along with your food liability insurance certificate for your application. Visit the Tompkins County Health Department website for the fee schedule.

New York Sales Tax Certificate

You must apply for a Certificate of Authority at least 20 days before you make taxable sales or provide taxable services within New York State. Before you begin completing the application, make sure you have the following information:

  • Reason for applying: (ex: starting a new business, change in organization, updating sales tax account, restarting sales tax account, restarting prior business, purchased existing business or adding a location)
  • Contact information for the business: Legal name, federal employer ID number, business address, phone number, email address
  • Entity Type: (ex: sole proprietor, partnership, limited liability company, limited liability partnership and corporation)
  • Date you will begin business for sales tax purposes: Date that you will begin selling tangible personal property or providing taxable services within New York State, begin issuing or accepting New York State exemption certificates or acquire all or part of the assets of an existing business
  • Bank account information: (account number and routing number) where you deposit sales tax money (manufacturers and wholesalers should just provide their business bank account information.)

Catering or Food Delivery at Cornell University

There is a fairly extensive process for becoming an approved caterer with Cornell. Here are the insurance requirements, terms and conditions of a purchase order and the requirements for becoming a service provider. Food Entrepreneurship Program staff are happy to walk you through this process!

Farmers Market Vending

If you plan to sell your food at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market, there are spaces available at the Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday markets. There is a $50 application fee for selling for a year (refundable if you are not accepted by the jury or you decide not to sell). There is also a $15 jury fee that is non-refundable. Each vendor is solely responsible for all permits, licenses, and sales taxes required for their products. There are also daily selling fees that range from $5/day on Thursdays to $34/day on Saturdays. You can download the application or apply online here: Ithaca Farmers' Market Vendor Guide.

City of Ithaca Street Vending

If you plan to sell your food on the street in the City of Ithaca, download the application here Street Vending/Food Truck Application. Permit fees are determined by location requested. Locations are assigned for 12 months. Vending locations are assigned on a first come first served basis. The following must be submitted with the Street Vending Application to the Superintendent of Public Work’s Office in order for the application to be considered complete.

  • $100 Application Fee (Non-refundable) – This fee covers administrative costs such as advertising, background checks, sign installation, and enforcement.
  • Insurance Certificate of Liability in the amount of $1,000,000 naming the City of Ithaca as an Additional Insured (Contact your local insurance company for more information)
  • A copy of a New York Sales Tax Certificate (NYS Taxation & Finance Office (800) 225-5829)
  • Proof of Workers’ Compensation and Disability Coverage required by New York State. Please note the “ACCORD” form is no longer acceptable proof of workers’ compensation coverage; OR Completed NYS Workers’ Compensation waiver if the applicant is not required to provide such coverage (Workers’ Compensation and Disability exempt form CE-200).
  • Description of food items offered for sale (for informational purposes only).
  • Description of the mobile vending unit (food truck) or photographic image.
  • Copy of the current vehicle registration and proof of automobile insurance, as required by NYS Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • A written description of your waste disposal plans for trash, water, grease, and other materials. City Staff will review the description; modifications may be required before a permit is issued. Proof of 501(C)(3) Designation (if applicable).
  • Copy of Ithaca Fire Department permit for solid, liquid or gas fired cooking/heating appliances Background Check Authorization Form (if applicable). Vendors wishing to vend in or near city parks must authorize a background check to be performed by the City

Developing Your Business Plan

Whether you've completed all, some or none of the activities listed above, set up a one-on-one meeting to develop your business plan with Kathleen Clark at Alternatives Federal Credit Union at 607-216-3423 or