Beyond the Blackboard: A Teacher’s Leap into Entrepreneurship

Beyond the Blackboard: A Teacher’s Leap into Entrepreneurship

Sharlay Smith was standing in front of a third-grade class, immersed in her teaching career, when she experienced a sudden revelation that set her on a new professional path.

Being a military spouse, Sharlay had recently grappled with the tragic loss of her husband, who was on active duty. In search of a new beginning in 2017, she enrolled in a class on cottage food businesses at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). While her initial intent was to aid a friend’s emerging business, Sharlay found herself inspired to establish her own venture—centered around a childhood staple: fried lentils.

A Jacksonville resident, Sharlay cherished the memory of cooking fried lentils with her mother. After sharing this nostalgic snack at a teachers’ potluck, its popularity amongst her colleagues signified that she had stumbled upon something exceptional.

And so, the Lentil House was conceived.

The journey to entrepreneurship was not without its challenges. Sharlay faced a steep learning curve but found invaluable support from UF/IFAS, which connected her with mentors and guided her through the labyrinth of intricate cottage food laws.

In Florida, a cottage food business is defined as an operation that generates less than $250,000 in gross annual revenue. These businesses can utilize home kitchens to produce a range of products—such as jams, breads, and granola—provided they comply with specific guidelines.

The Lentil House has since outgrown its cottage food origins, evolving into a full-fledged commercial enterprise. Today, Sharlay’s fried lentils have found their way onto the shelves of 30 stores across Florida, including the renowned Whole Foods chain. Moreover, these popular snacks are also available in several independent grocery stores nationwide, marking the impressive growth and success of Sharlay’s humble lentil endeavor.