The Cost of Being a Vendor at a Food Festival

by Helen Qin

My boyfriend and I made a big move at the beginning of this year from Los Angeles to Cleveland for a job promotion I received at work. He’d gotten into making ice cream while we were in California — we had even tossed around the idea of starting our own business, but the task was daunting and the costs seemed prohibitive.

Due to the move, we are currently living rent-free with his mom while he looks for employment. Given my salary bump and the lower cost of living, it seemed like a good time to take a risk, so we started Mason’s Creamery, our ice cream business. We decided to target food festivals and farmer’s markets because:

1. The initial costs are lower than it would be to rent a storefront or go the food truck route.
2. It’s about to be summer! People love food festivals and farmer’s markets in the summer, right?
3. That’s pretty much it.

In March, we applied, and somehow finagled our way into an upcoming festival in Cleveland that will happen in May. We were also recently accepted to the downtown Cleveland Farmer’s Market, and will continue to apply to others around the area. This way, we hope to get our name out and eventually segue into something less booth-like. For anyone curious about the costs of starting a very small business, or the costs of a festival (because you love festivals in the summer), here’s the rundown:

– $120, one-time: Business incorporation for the state of Ohio, with which we can now procure our EIN (free of charge!).
– $299/year: Liability insurance — we used Food Insurance Liability Program (FLIP). FLIP covers food vendors at festivals and farmer’s market at a much lower cost than actual food insurers. The $299 we paid is the lowest rate, which is based on sales numbers. Our sales are $0.
– $25, one-time: Transient vendor’s license for the state of Ohio, which will need to be renewed yearly but paid only once.
– $15/every three years: Online food safety course called ServSafe, a national food safety certification.
– $160, one-time: Food vendor license and placard for the city of Cleveland.

Festival (Two Days):
– $640: Festival food both with temporary food permit, which is comprised of $40 for the temporary food permit, $10 for the booth set-up and $590 for…well, we’re not sure, but we paid it. General festivities? This was a lot steeper than we had expected, but the festival had 40,000 people in attendance last year, and we know there were a limited number of ice cream vendors, so it seemed like a good way to debut in Cleveland.
– $50: We need to rent electricity for our freezer.
– $75: We bought a quarte-page ad in the pamphlet the festival will be handing out, because after the first $690, the $75 seemed like a bargain.
– $215: The aforementioned freezer was purchased used from Craigslist. There’s a few rust stains on it, but otherwise it is in good condition. If the ice cream business fails, we will start hoarding food in the freezer for the eventual zombie apocalypse.
– $20/hour: We will be renting a commercial kitchen in preparation for the festival. We’re not sure how long we’ll need, but that’s the going rate.

So far, we’ve spent $1,599, and that’s not counting the actual ingredients for the ice cream we’ve been testing, kitchen rental time, and all the incidental goods we will need to purchase, such as napkins, cones, cups, spoons, business cards, trash bags, etc. Thankfully, someone in my boyfriend’s family has a trailer, which we’ll use to lug around the freezer, and which can easily cost up to $800 for a new one.

We plan on charging $3.50 for one scoop and $5.00 for two small-ish scoops of ice cream at the festival, and hope to break even from that. After the festival on May 18–19, we’d love to come back and provide an update of how much we spent and how much we’ve made.

Helen Qin lives and works in a non-ice-cream-related industry in Cleveland, Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @masonscreamery. In the meantime, Mason’s Creamery can be found in a suburban kitchen in Cleveland, Ohio and at We love and appreciate all advice, criticisms, feedback, at

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