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How to Start a Food Business

Before you get cooking, here are some tips from folks who built their business from scratch

AARP Kerry Hannon: 5 Things to Know Before Entering the Food Business

Portrait of Jane Lyons, 58, in front of her food truck on E St. SW in Washington, D.C. — Photo by Lexey Swall/GRAIN

En español | There's something appetizing about starting a food business. When friends and family urge you to sell your mouthwatering cupcakes or finger-licking barbecue sauce, it's tempting to try.

See also: Find a job today!

Lots of people do. Sales of specialty foods, many of them initially produced by home-based businesses, are up nearly 20 percent in the last three years, according to the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade.

But no matter how passionate you are about your product, you need a recipe for success. There's nothing simple about running a food business. You need a business plan and a distribution plan. You need to know state and federal food rules, licensing requirements and fees. Ignore these and you may well join the ranks of the many home-based businesses that fail.

In a series of interviews, AARP reached out to people who had created successful food businesses for insights into what an aspiring food entrepreneur should know before debuting the dream. All were women, reflecting a national trend: Between 1997 and 2012, the number of woman-owned firms increased by more than 50 percent, a rate 1.5 times the national average, according to the American Express OPEN Forum, an online meeting place for entrepreneurs. On average, 550 new woman-founded businesses opened up each day.

Who: Jane Lyons, 58, was a senior merchandising executive at Bloomingdale's. Her business partner is Leah Perez, 34, a jewelry maker.

What: Stix food truck sells grilled marinated flank steak, chicken, vegetables, pineapple and pears on 10-inch skewers. The truck is an old U.S. Postal Service vehicle.

Where: Washington, D.C.

Started: 2010

AARP: What's your advice for someone 50-plus who wants to start a food business?

Next: The one rule Jane Lyons always follows. »

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