MacIver News Service | July 17, 2017

By M.D. Kittle, special to Wausau Pilot and Review

[Madison, Wis…] Nic Ruffi, at the age of 12, has already learned what entrepreneurs everywhere know: Stifling regulation stops start-ups.

The Wausau tween wanted to do something more with his summer vacation than play video games and hang out. He wanted a job. He wanted to make money.

The answer: ice cream. Nic planned to sell frozen sweet treats on his three-wheeled bicycle.

His parents, owners of Ruffi Law Offices in Wausau, decided to check in with the regulators first before Nic proceeded with his ice cream American Dream. For his troubles, the would-be entrepreneur received a thick commercial vendor registration packet, replete with various rules and regulations. Nic would have to have his bicycle and his ice cream cooler inspected by the city health department, a $60 fee, and pay a permit fee – $75 for six months, $100 for a year.

But in order to get the permit, Nic’s parents would have to take out an insurance policy for $1 million in liability, at a premium cost of $500. And the city required it be named as an additional insured party on the policy. Apparently the city was concerned about the possible carnage caused by a kid selling Fudgsicles from the back of his bike.

“So my kid would have to spend $620 in fees and insurance before he sells one ice cream sandwich,” Sarah Ruffi, Nic’s mom, told MacIver News Service in an interview on the Vicki McKenna Show, on NewsTalk 1130 WISN in Milwaukee.

But that wasn’t the worst part, Sarah said. After digging through all of the regulations, the Ruffi family found that Nic need not apply. The city’s standard commercial ordinance requires a permit applicant be at least 18 years old.

Sarah said her husband was told by Wausau Mayor Robert Meilke that the rules are the rules, that there was nothing the city could do.

“We were not satisfied with the answer we got,” she said.

So they talked to city council members. They weren’t done there. Sarah and Nic drove to Madison to share their ice cream permit saga with the National Federation of Independent Business-Wisconsin. Then they hit the Capitol, meeting with state representatives and senators and “explaining the hurdles this 12-year-old kid is going through to try to sell ice cream.”

The city, it seems, has relented – somewhat.

Responding to the Ruffis concerns, the Public Health and Safety Committee has approved a youth vendor permit that would lift the age restriction, lower the cost of the permit, and reduce the liability insurance coverage requirements. The committee proposal goes before the full council Tuesday evening.

Meilke said this is all a “big story about nothing,” that the Ruffis are making a “mountain out of a molehill.”

“I really believe the city has been unfairly portrayed. There is a legal process we have to go through,” the mayor said.

The health and safety committee, he said, gladly created a youth vendor permit to accommodate Nic Ruffi and young businesspeople like him. Meilke added that the city could cite the 12-year-old for selling ice cream on his bicycle without the proper permits and insurance, but it won’t do so.

Tara Alfonso, Wausau assistant city attorney, said the committee proposal creates a $15 fee for youth vendors, and requires a $100,000 liability policy. The ordinance still would require the city be named an additional insured participant.

The city must be protected, Meilke said, from possible lawsuits.

“Let’s say he (Nic Ruffi) sells ice cream with a peanut in it and someone has a peanut allergy. Who is going to be on the hook for that? Not the city,” the mayor said.

Alfonso said any ordinance must comply with state and federal child labor laws, which include different requirements depending on the age of the child worker. Nic Ruffi, it would appear, would fall under the “domestic business” category, meaning he would not be bound by the same kind of restrictions as children employed or contracted through a non-domestic business.

The assistant city attorney said Wausau government officials are being accused of “beating up lemonade stands,” and that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are exceptions to the main commercial vending ordinance, Alfonso said. It doesn’t apply to kids selling lemonade from their homes or on private property, with approval of the property owners.

“This applies to people selling on the street and on sidewalks. We have always allowed kids to have a lemonade stand,” she said. What’s different in Nic Ruffi’s case is that the young entrepreneur wants to sell his product on his bike, going door to door, the attorney said.

“We did tweak that for his situation and for other kids like him,” Alfonso said.

Sarah Ruffi said the proposed youth vendor ordinance is a step in the right direction and that city officials’ hearts are in the right place. But it still contains unnecessary restrictions and costs. Even the $100,000 liability insurance cap comes with a costly premium, of $265, she said. That operational expense is a big cut to Nic’s profits. Sarah said she’d like to see a waiver for all kids.

It’s all been a learning experience for Nic and his older brother, Mac, and in some ways the lessons have been invaluable. It’s taught the boys what owning a small business truly entails. It’s taught them not to accept the status quo. Mac, 13, saw potential in his kid brother’s business plan and wants to get in on the venture. A “born litigator,” according to his mother, Mac is scheduled to address the full council at the meeting.

Sarah said Nic and Mac aren’t alone in their push to loosen the grip of government regulation.

“I find it very hard to believe that my sons are the only ones who want to be young entrepreneurs in this state,” she said. “I think the government’s job is to get out of their way and encourage them to be entrepreneurs and follow that spirit rather than say, ‘Hey, we’re going to make it difficult and expensive for you to get into business. I think that’s just wrong.”

The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy is a Wisconsin-based think tank that promotes free markets, individual freedom, personal responsibility and limited government. This story was published by permission.

14 replies on “12-year-old ice cream entrepreneur buried in regulations”

  1. I think this is an over simplification of health department regulations. I thought Sarah, his mom, did a great job on a podcast recently. Selling food should be regulated, it is food after all. So, if Child X sells tainted ice cream from the back of his bike and 100 people violently ill, then what? Mayor Mielke might have been able to handle it better. But, the significant pieces are not his age, nor what he is sell, but rather this is a license the city has for food vendors. He would be a food vendor, and yeah, he would be young, and not really selling a lot, but he would be a food vendor. There are issues with the ordinance as it stands, and sure it is fun to poke fun, but the source of this piece is dubious at best. The Maciver Institure has a political agenda, and is lifting up this boy to serve there agenda. I think Sarah Ruffi is a far more articulate person to speak to about this issue. This seems a rather transparent attempt on the part of the MacIver Institute to find a lever to use in future elections.

    1. It all boils down to personal responsibility versus the government (at whatever level) washing their hands in it and above all……getting a FEE for literally whatever anyone (even a 12 yr old) does. Sorry, but it’s pathetic. He’s a 12 yr. old kid who wants to do something positive during the three freaking months he has off from school. But no. Let’s all get hysterical about the “what ifs” and teach this young mind full ‘o mush that it’s only going to get worse as he reaches adulthood. WTF is “tainted ice cream” anyways? Seriously?
      In regards to the Maciver institute having a political agenda, tell me ANY organization these days that doesn’t. Yup, shame on them for promoting free markets, individual freedom, personal responsibility and limited government. I suspect you wouldn’t have a problem with the organization involved if it was on the opposite side of the political spectrum. What’s rather transparent is your obvious disdain for any of those things.

      1. Call, I get it. It sure can be easy just to say, yeah he is 12 give the kid a break. Sure. But, where does that break end? How about the 45 year old owner of say, the dive bar that serves food. I mean, is it his age that you think gets him a break? Because if it is, when does that break stop. Do people say, under 21 get the break, but over 21 have to get the insurance?

        What If’s are real in food preparation and sales. Those what if’s can have real consequences. I would imagine dairy products are even more prone to what if’s.

        This young person is not exercising personal responsibility. Not at all. He is selling a product, and in that regard his responsibility affects others. So, personal responsibility should indicate that a person no matter there age, should want to operate a business under the same guiding principals as everyone else. Health inspections to ensure safe and clean food. Insurance to insure liability protection in case something goes wrong. A license from the municipality to ensure the business will comply with the rules. These are the standards that all businesses operate under. Why should this young person be any different? His personal responsibility should be such that he is a responsible food vendor, and that means meeting health standards.

        Well, the issue with the piece being written by the Maciver Institute is that it is advocacy parading as journalism. So, the intent is different than simply telling the story. The narrative is shaped in such a way that it is used to drive an idea home.

        I do not mind that Maciver exists at all. But, to somehow say that all nonprofits are advocating for something that is misleading and a gross overstatement. Locally there are lots of nonprofits that are not doing anything other than offering service delivery. I do not have a problem with any advocacy organization being an advocacy organization. Maciver included.

        I think Sarah Ruffi was her best advocate when she was on their podcast. I think she was pragmatic and tempered, and focused on the resolution of the issue given the playing field in front of her.

  2. I have a question for the city. How often are the restaurants and other eateries inspected and checked for insurance coverage. I do Not eat in many of Wausau’s restaurants any more after having been in some of the kitchen areas.
    I assume all the food carts meet the same standards. Is Romey of any assistance to this young businessman?

  3. When I was a kid, we had a lemonade stand at my grandparent’s house, right across the street from Marathon Park in Wausau. During the 4th of July and August Fair, we would make a killing. It taught us a lot. We never had to worry about regulations and permits. Maybe we broke the law, I don’t know, it was the 1970’s. People these days seem to get offended by the stupidest things. These kids should be applauded. It’s no different than the lemonade stands we all had as kids. At least they put down the game controllers and found something productive to do. I mean, there on bikes, how much ground can they possibly cover? An ice cream truck has such a greater advantage to move around. I’m sure Wausau and the surrounding areas can provide enough of a market for everyone. Let kids be kids.

    1. Gary, you saw the part in the article about lemonade stands right? “The assistant city attorney said Wausau government officials are being accused of “beating up lemonade stands,” and that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are exceptions to the main commercial vending ordinance, Alfonso said. It doesn’t apply to kids selling lemonade from their homes or on private property, with approval of the property owners.

      “This applies to people selling on the street and on sidewalks. We have always allowed kids to have a lemonade stand,” she said. What’s different in Nic Ruffi’s case is that the young entrepreneur wants to sell his product on his bike, going door to door, the attorney said.

      “We did tweak that for his situation and for other kids like him,” Alfonso said.”

  4. It’s awesome that the city is being proactive at creating a pathway for kids to create their business.

    Step 1 is create a lemonade stand, on your parent’s property. This is easy enough to do, and can be use to teach the basics of selling.

    Step 2. If your area doesn’t get enough traffic, you can then learn about expanding your business, and a lightweight version of the logistics that go behind operating a business.

    I can certainly see the city’s point of view that the city needs some sort of protection. If the city didn’t, and something horrible happened, then the taxpayers could be liable for a very large amount. It sucks that our society requires these things, but it is the reality we live in.

  5. The only lesson this is teaching the young people of today, is just how difficult it is to do anything in the US. Our government is out of control and most people are asleep to the whole thing. While you were sleeping, our country has been sold off and bogged down by red tape and stupid regulations that make doing practically anything, impossible. Sometimes laws must be broken to show just how stupid that law is. This situation doesn’t require government, it requires citizens with common sense. I’ve had enough of all these pointless policies that are just a way to fund our failing/ bankrupt government. What the US needs is a little more God, and a lot less government. Peace

  6. I think an argument could be made that we are better served by having food preparation standards and enforcement of such a thing. This is not a new thing, not a new thing at all. Every restaurant you eat at, every grocery store, has to comply with a health standard. This is a protection that we have wanted for and supported as a society for a long time now. It protects us as a population from food borne outbreaks of disease. Somehow conflating the protection of the population to something about our country being sold off or red tape is just conflation, and proves the point of my original comment. You are willing to use a common sense regulation, food safety, and somehow call it red tape and stupid regulation.

  7. SMH.. I think it’s AWESOME what these kids want to do… And it also shows they were brought up quite right and definitely not what’s “wrong” with kids today. I personally just think good grief…. Seriously? As it is everyone and their brother is going to have a finger in their pie so to speak soon enough. Tax this, tax that… pay this bill, that bill, get insurance for this for that, “oh you want a puppy? Well ya gotta have a license for that too!!!” (last time I checked I don’t drive my dog….but I DO pay an astronomical amount to keep said dog as it is without having to add a license on top of it.) SERIOUSLY PEOPLE!!! Is the next thing going to be to tax little Jimmy’s wages for his paper route? (oh dear tell me that’s not already happening..) Let em be good kids and instead of focusing on the bad, let’s focus on the good.. While they are out peddling around ice cream you can bet your sweet tush they aren’t doing things that are a heck of lot worse.. (have you ever VISTED a Detention Hall? Also as far as the “Peanut Allergy concerns.” While I am sympathetic to those with such allergies, I’m have no sympathy for those that just want to blow everything out of proportion..If they are concerned? Use common sense.. Don’t buy from the kids.. But then also don’t make a Federal case out of that then either, “your rights aren’t being violated,” YOU made a decision to not accept the ice cream because YOU had a concern. I’m sure there is plenty of non- nutted ice cream at the store for you to enjoy then. If you want to pitch a fit? Well then enjoy the fact that people like you are part of the reason insurance prices are so gosh darn high, and pat yourself on the back. Sad thing is it really doesn’t necessarily need to be that way.

    1. I do not really understand your moral outrage here. Also, you are conflating a lot of things. But, the situation is this young mans parents set out to follow the law. Like they should. When the law seemed undue in its burden, they attempted to get it change. The administration responded to their requests. Is this not exactly what you want to see happen?

  8. Young entrepreneurs attempting to start a business is something most communities haven’t had to address before, but the city is making an effort. They are lowering the permit fee to $15, and amount of insurance required from 1 million to $100,000 in coverage. They aren’t trying to prevent them from starting the business, just covering everything required for legally & safely operating this type of business. The cost of insurance is a lot for a couple of kids selling ice cream, but today insurance is a must, even for someone their age. What if they accidentally damage property, like denting a car? Run a child’s foot over with the bike and it requires medical attention? There are a lot more scenarios than tainted food, or unknowingly selling something to someone with an allergy. I look at this with mixed feelings, I’d love to just say “gee, they’re just kids… Just let them be”, but any bad scenario you can think of could happen and put them, the parents, and yes, even the city in a position of responsibility. If these enterprising kids were mine I’d foot the insurance the first year to help get it going, then teach them to save from their profits for next year… You know, smart business sense…

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