Florida Division of Blind Services logo

 

Overview

picture of a highway vending facility.

The mission of the Florida Bureau of Business Enterprise (BBE) is to provide people who are legally blind with rewarding and profitable entrepreneurial ventures, broaden their economic opportunities, and invigorate all blind people to be self-supporting, while dispelling misconceptions about blind people by showcasing their abilities.

The Florida Bureau of Business Enterprise (BBE) administers one of the largest vending and food service programs operated by people who are legally blind in the United States.  The Florida Bureau of Business Enterprise Program provides job opportunities in the food service sector for eligible blind persons under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. Job opportunities include: snack bar, cafeteria, highway vending machines, or non-highway vending.

Everything a visually impaired person needs to get started running their own food service facility is provided including training, facility, equipment, inventory, and the necessary funds to begin operations.  The BBE prides itself in allowing visually impaired entrepreneurs independence in their day-to-day operations, while at the same time providing continual support through professional business consultants and educational workshops.  

Florida broadened the federal Randolph Sheppard Act with its own version. Blind licensees, under the Little Randolph Sheppard Act (FS 413.051) are given the first opportunity to participate in the operation of vending stands on all state properties acquired after July 1, 1979, when such facilities are operated under the supervision of the Florida Division of Blind Services of the Department of Education.

If you are legally blind and a United States citizen, you might want to consider the Florida Bureau of Business Enterprise Program as your career choice. Read How to Get a BBE Vendor License and find out how you can begin an exciting career as the manager of a vending or food services facility.

Vendor is an Unstoppable Force in the BBE Program

By Janet Chernoff

Newspaper clippingAt nineteen, Valerie James was passionate enough about cooking to make it a career. She went to college to study culinary arts but had to drop out when she began to lose her sight. Although legally blind she was not ready to give up her dream. She was working in the kitchen at a friend’s resort when she decided to apply to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York City. The CIA was reluctant to accept a legally blind person and it was only after her boss talked to the institute’s president that Valerie was accepted into the program. Accommodations for visually impaired students were nonexistent and Valerie had to hire readers to help her with the classwork. She persevered and was the first legally blind student to graduate from the institute. 

Valerie completed her training with an internship at a resort on St. Simon’s Island in Georgia. It was at this resort that she met her future husband Jesse who worked as a sous chef. Newspaper clippingOnce she graduated she returned to New York to find a job. It was soon apparent that most restaurants were reluctant to hire a legally blind person.  Jesse suggested that she come to Florida where she was hired to work in a restaurant in Jupiter.  Valerie said the restaurant hired her because of her degree from CIA and never really looked at her resume. Soon she was running the restaurant dining room and the management did not realize that she was legally blind until the restaurant was sold. The new owners were only willing to offer her a job as a waitress. 

It was at this point in her career that Valerie decided to look into the Bureau of Business Enterprise (BBE) program. She was initially told that she was not a good fit for the program. She reapplied a few months later and was accepted. BBE training was different in the 1980s and Valerie was licensed in 1989 after she successfully managed the cafeteria at the Daytona Rehab Center for two weeks. Valerie’s initial plan was to operate a BBE facility for a few years just to get some experience but changed her mind and has been in the program almost thirty years.  

Vendor loading machingShe was operating a facility at a post office in West Palm when her husband decided to submit an application for her for a new facility in Tallahassee. The first time she heard about it was when she received notification that she qualified for an interview. She was awarded the facility, a cafeteria at the Capital Circle Office Complex at Southwood and ran the location for 10 years.  During her time in Tallahassee she also temporarily operated the food service at the Florida Capitol Building, vending at the Federal Correctional Institute and a Tallahassee vending route.  At one point Valerie was running five facilities in the Tallahassee area. In 2007, Valerie accepted interstate vending at a rest area facility on I-75 South in Hillsborough County and still runs that facility today.  Recently she agreed to temporarily operate a second location, rest area vending at the Skyway Bridge. Valerie also serves on the Selection Panel which interviews and recommends licensed vendors for business opportunities in the program. Valerie misses food service and may consider returning to it one day. Valerie’s passion for food service and belief in herself have made her an unstoppable force in the BBE program.   

Important Notices

September Selection Cycle

Business Opportunities for the Septemer Selection Cycle will be posted on September 15, 2018 on the Business Opportunities page.

Upcoming CEU opportunities

National Association of Blind Merchants (NABM) BLAST Conference

November 13-16, 2018
Hyatt Regency Hill Country, San Antonio, TX
BBE attendees can earn up to 1.5 CEU credits
BBE will pay the registration fee ($200) for licensed vendors interested in attending the BLAST (Business Leadership And Superior Training) Conference.  This years’ BLAST will be held in San Antonio, TX, November 13-16, 2018.  In order for BBE to pay your registration fee, you must notify Alan Risk of your intention to attend no later than 5 PM on July 31, 2018.  Remember, registration fees are non-refundable.  If BBE pays your registration fee and you do not attend, you will be required to reimburse BBE for the registration cost.  Please note the details below.

  • BBE will pay for Registration Fees ONLY.  Each attendee is responsible for all other expenses, including travel, lodging, meals, etc.
  • If your registration fee is paid by BBE and you do not attend, you will be required to reimburse BBE for the cost of registration.
  • BBE will only pay registration fees one time per vendor, per calendar year to attend national training conference associated with the Business Enterprise Program. 
  • BBE does not pay registration for spouses that attend with you.
  • Hotel reservations can be made by calling 1-210-647-1234 and ask for the NABM BLAST room block. 
  • Visit https://blindmerchants.org/blast-2018-registration/ to register. 

IMPORTANT: DO NOT PAY REGISTRATION FEE WHEN REGISTERING.  Registration fees will be paid by Purchase Order from the State of FL.

Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Hadley has agreed that BBE managers in Florida are not required to provide verification that they are legally blind. First time registrants will need to complete an enrollment application. Applications can be completed online at http:///www.hadley.edu. If you would prefer to receive a hard copy of the application in Braille or print format, you should contact Student Services at (800) 526-9909 or via email at student_services@hadley.edu.

The application will ask for information about your eye condition, but an eye report is not required if you are identified on the vendor list provided to them. For identification purposes, when completing the application form, please note "2018 FL Randolph Sheppard" in the Referral Details section of the application where it asks how you heard about Hadley.

Vendors who have taken Hadley courses within the past five years are not required to submit a new application. You should contact Student Services via email or telephone to request enrollment. However, Hadley asks that you identify yourselves as a Florida Randolph Sheppard Program student.
A list of BBE pre-approved Hadley courses for CEU credit can be found at http://dbs.myflorida.com/BBE/ceu.html.

On-line Monthly Business Report

Monthly Reporting Website

Monthly Reporting Instructions (Word DOC)

Vendors experiencing technical difficulties with submitting on-line reports, especially in cases that would result in a late report, should immediately contact Adam Gaffney, DBS computer helpdesk, by calling (850) 245-0360 or by sending an email to Adam.Gaffney@dbs.fldoe.org.

Florida Bureau of Business Enterprise

Providing Tools and Support for Legally Blind Vendors in the Food Service Industry