How to Become a Food Vendor in Massachusetts

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Most Massachusetts cities require that pedestrians have four feet of walking area around a food cart.
Most Massachusetts cities require that pedestrians have four feet of walking area around a food cart. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Long-time fixtures at flea markets, carnivals and other special events, the popularity of food vendors has grown so much that today Americans are accustomed to seeing them on urban street corners. In response, many states have made it easier for entrepreneurs to become food vendors; however, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is not among them. The process is daunting, largely due to the plethora of municipal agencies involved in issuing the required licenses and permits. Be prepared for extensive leg-work.

Write a business plan. This is crucial for even sole proprietors. Massachusetts requires a variety of licenses and permits dependant on the types of food you intend to sell and where. A working business plan will help you identify the legalities you are required to adhere to. Start with a mission statement that details why you’re in business, your operating standards and your goals. Identify your target market and what media and tactics you will use to entice them to your business and develop your budget. List your known monthly expenses and add 20 percent to allow for unforeseen situations. Determine how much profit you require; add the two figures to determine your operating costs. Extrapolate from that figure how much product you must sell to meet your costs to finish your budget.

Determine where you will locate your food cart. Most Massachusetts cities do not allow vendors in residential communities and require four feet of open space for pedestrian traffic to move past the cart. If your food cart is three feet wide, the sidewalk where you decide to locate it must be at least seven feet wide. Choose carefully. Massachusetts views food carts as restaurants, so your location will be permanent.

Obtain a DBA ("doing business as" or fictitious name) from the city where your cart will be located. This is required whether your business is structured as a sole proprietorship or a corporation. Limited partnerships and all forms of corporations must register with the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

Apply for all the required permits and licenses. Massachusetts doesn’t make this easy. You will have to visit several municipal agencies. Determine which local agency oversees vendors. Ask the city representative that helps you file your DBA. In Boston, Public Works is the governing agency; however, you must obtain your propane license from the Fire Department, your health inspection from the Health Division of the Inspectional Services Department and your Peddler’s license from the Massachusetts Division of Standards. You are also required to obtain tax permits, as well as worker’s compensation, unemployment and business insurance to protect your equipment.

Park your vendor cart at the location you’ve permitted with the city and prepare for your health inspection. Ensure that your food and supplies are properly stored and that all appliances are in good working order. Check the water and propane tanks to make sure they are full. The daunting process is now complete and you have become a food vendor, ready to open for business as soon as you pass the health inspections and receive your permits.

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