Permitting Essentials: Preventing Nasty Surprises

From Tip 1 – We created your Brand Experience
From Tip 2 – We learned about your Customers
From Tip 3 – We explored your identity
From Tip 4 – We created your Space
From Tip 5 – We created your Physical Space
From Tip 6 – We created your Business Plan
From Tip 7 – We analyzed your Location and Customers
Now that you completed Tips 1-7, you can start to permit your location!
Permitting is completed through your local State, County, and Local jurisdictions. Before you start any business, it is best to consult with an attorney and CPA on the legal entity that you want to create – i.e. Corporation, LLC, or Sole Proprietorship. Then, your attorney can assist with all state and local licensing and filings or many states have great online tools.
Once you have set-up your business and have received the necessary business licenses, that name will be used to create your permit documents and applications for your new café.
The following are the typical permits that are necessary to own and operate a café (it is best to check with your city or county to confirm all documents that will be necessary) to insure success! And once you have a timeline and list of permits, it is best to prepare a schedule in order to determine your lease start date.

  • Permitting3_FINALBuilding Permit – This is a permit with the City or County to build-out your space or building. An architect would typically prepare the building department permit drawings and have knowledge of restaurants or cafes.
  • Land Use Review or Change of Use Permit – This permit is required when the space occupancy is not indicated for restaurant or café use (if it is a mercantile or retail use, or office or industrial use)
  • Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing Permits – These are permits that are often applied for by the contractor, but in some jurisdictions, they require that these drawings be submitted with the Building Department permit drawings.
  • Sidewalk or Patio Permit – This may be a separate permit with the Building Permit.
  • Health Dept. Permit – This permit is for the handling and preparation of food. If you are purchasing pre-packaged food, this permit is typically also required. Any cooking of food on an open flame or fryer would require a Class 1 Hood. For a café concept, it may not be feasible to install a Class 1 hood if providing a small menu. There are many new pieces of equipment that are hoodless and are able to provide an extensive menu for cafes.
  • Wine and Beer Permit and License – This is often a separate permit from the Health and Building Permits – and may require an extensive application and financial screening depending on your state.
  • Signage Permit – When negotiating your lease, it is important to identify all of your signs – including window signage and sandwich boards for a landlord’s approval. For a signage permit, it may also be necessary to permit all of the signage you will have on your space, your building, and on the sidewalk.
  • When looking for space, it is a good idea to also consult with an architect and local jurisdictions in order to assess your need for the various permits. An architect that designs and permits restaurants will be able to assess the need for the various permits in your area. There are many times that permits are not necessary – as the changes that you are making are not affecting structure, health, or safety. In this case, still make your landlord aware that a permit is not necessary and receive their approval as well.

If you are looking to lease a current retail space – that is being used for a clothing store or office or other uses, you may need to apply for a change of use or land use change permit. These permits can take longer and jurisdictions may not even allow for a restaurant use. Parking would also be reviewed to insure the parking adheres to the new use.
Permitting can be an easier process if you have the right team, know your menu, and understand that planning ahead is the key to success!
Working with a team of consultants is key to assessing location options. Our 10 Tips Jumpstart pocket books provide more useful tips
Stay tuned every month for valuable tips. Melanie Corey-Ferrini is the founder of Dynamikspace ( and offers services from consulting to full service café creation

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