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County opens applications for mini home-kitchen restaurants

Gig Conaughton

County of San Diego Communications Office

The first aspiring chefs looking to turn their homes or apartments into mini-restaurants gathered at the County Operations Center Feb. 25 as the county officially opened its application process for “Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations.”

County supervisors unanimously approved a two-year, temporary authorization in January to let people countywide operate mini-restaurants out of their homes serving up to 30 in-person, take-out or delivery meals a day, with a maximum of 60 a week.

County Department of Environmental Health and Quality staff and members of the San Diego Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations Coalition greeted a couple dozen people to help them navigate the application process and answer questions. The department has also created a website where people can apply and get information,

Home cooks who want to operate a microenterprise kitchen will be required to submit an application, earn a food safety manager certificate from an approved school, pass an initial inspection, and undergo annual inspections. Kitchens that rely upon well water would also have to conduct private well tests to ensure the water is safe.

The state moved to allow microenterprise kitchens in 2019 with restrictions. Some of those include:

● They 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.

The County is the regional local authority that conducts health inspections for all restaurants and food facilities countywide and is the governing body to consider MEHKO authorization for the unincorporated areas and the county’s 18 cities.

County Board Vice Chair Nora Vargas and Supervisor Joel Anderson asked the board to approve a microenterprise home kitchen operation ordinance. When the board approved the ordinance last month, they said the kitchens would not compete with established restaurants but would help local communities, the economy and people with cooking skills trying to make ends meet.

County staff said comments collected in public meetings and hearings also stated that home-kitchen restaurants had numerous potential economic and community benefits. For example, they would give aspiring restaurateurs a way to earn a living and way to test their skills and ideas for an overall startup cost of about $740, rather than spending the estimated $275,000 average cost of opening a storefront restaurant. They would also provide “food justice” and healthy, home-cooked meals for communities that don’t have lots of restaurants or that lack access to healthy food.

County staff plan to study local home-kitchen restaurants during the two-year temporary authorization of the ordinance and bring that data back to the Board before the ordinance expires for supervisors to consider whether to make it permanent.

For more information, go to the Department of Environmental Health and Quality’s Home Kitchen Operations webpage, linked above.


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