Like aspiring American entrepreneurs throughout our country’s history, 11-year-old Chloe Stirling wanted to help herself by helping others. Determined to save money for a car when she comes of age, Chloe baked, sold, and donated cupcakes for two years. She ran her business, called, “Hey, Cupcake!” out of her parents’ kitchen in Troy, Illinois.
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Ironically, it was Chloe’s success that got her in trouble. After a local paper lauded her creative cupcaking, the Madison County Health Department took notice and told her to close up shop.
What were they thinking? Section 750.1360 of the Illinois Food Service Sanitation Code requires that a kitchen used for a “food service operation” must be separate from any “living areas,” including the family kitchen. Chloe’s mother, Heather Stirling, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that officials said that the family would need to buy a bakery or a separate kitchen for Chloe.
Heather’s reaction says it all: “A separate kitchen? Who can do that?”
Not our problem, say local officials. “The rules are the rules. It’s for the protection of the public health,” health department spokesperson Amy Yeager said, according to the Post-Dispatch. “The guidelines apply to everyone.”
As Chief Justice John Roberts once wrote for a unanimous Supreme Court in Gonzalez v. O Centro (2006), this statement “echoes the classic rejoinder of bureaucrats throughout history: If I make an exception for you, I’ll have to make one for everybody, so no exceptions.”
Discretion is inherent to law enforcement. Every decision to enforce a law diverts resources from other priorities. So it’s worth asking whether there is any reason to think that this instance of unauthorized cupcake production endangers the public health. Otherwise, we’re justified in asking whether local health authorities have better things to do with taxpayer money.
Yes, the rules are the rules. And it’s reasonable to require that those who sell food to the public conform to certain standards. But there’s nothing that encourages contempt for rules like the unthinking application of them. And it’s hard to think of a means better calculated to discouraging young entrepreneurs than draping them in red tape the moment they show a propensity to “truck, barter, and exchange.”
Chloe’s business is the stuff that dreams are made of. For the sake of Chloe’s customers, Chloe’s community, and Chloe, Hey, Cupcake! should be allowed to remain in business.