Residents throughout San Diego County may soon legally operate “mini-restaurants” from their homes. 

The San Diego Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a two-year temporary authorization of the microenterprise home kitchen operations (MEHKOs), which allows for operators to serve up to 30-in person, take out or delivery meals daily. This ordinance will allow operators to serve up to 60 meals weekly. 

A health permit is required and home kitchens must pass food safety inspections. A request to draft the ordinance for MEHKOs was brought to the board in September by Vice-Chair Nora Vargas and Supervisor Joel Anderson. 

Board Members said Wednesday that the home kitchens wouldn’t compete with established restaurants but would help local communities, the economy and people with cooking skills trying to make ends meet.

“Legally implemented MEHKOS can serve as incubators for aspiring restaurateurs to test out and vet a menu while learning the basics of what it takes to run a small-scale retail operation,” Vargas said. “I want to make sure that families and businesses in our region are thriving, not just surviving, and this opens the door for home cooks to do just that.”

According to Anderson, MEHKOS also provides a great service to communities “because people are getting quality food from their neighbors.”

“On every level, I just believe this is a terrific program,” Anderson said.

During public meetings and hearings, county staff has stated that MEHKOs could have numerous potential economic and community benefits. The ordinance would enable the exploration of skills and ideas to aspiring restaurants for an overall start-up cost of $750. 

County staff has noted this ordinance would provide “food justice” and healthy, home-cooked meals for communities that may not have that kind of access. 

Those who wish to operate a MEHKOs are required to submit an application, earn a food safety manager certificate from an approved school, pass an initial inspection, and undergo annual inspections. The county will conduct private wellness tests on kitchens that rely on well water to ensure the water is safe to use. 

Through the two-year temporary authorization of the ordinance, county staff will study local MEHKOs and present the data to the board before it expires. The board will then determine whether to make the ordinance permanent. 

The state established a MEHKO addition to the California Retail Food Code in 2019, which is the state law that establishes health and sanitation standards and regulates food facilities. Though, there are restrictions under state law. 

Some of those restrictions include:

  • MEHKOs must be operated by a resident living in the home or apartment
  • They cannot have more than one full-time employee excluding family members.
  • Food must be prepared and served on the same day and sold directly to consumers.
  • They’re limited to $50,000 in sales a year.
  • They cannot operate as caterers, temporary event vendors, mobile event vendors, or cottage food operators that prepare and sell packaged foods. 

A new ordinance to oversee regulation was created with the board's action, requiring its authorization at a “second reading” on Jan. 26, which will allow for the ordinance to effect 30 days after that.

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