MEHKO
Roya Bagheri, Executive Director of C.O.O.K. Alliance; Karen Melvin of the San Diego MEHKO Coalition; Diana Tapiz, owner of Tres Fuegos Cocina; and Delilah Davis of Soul-Cal Café were among the dozens who attended the opening of the application process for “Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations.” Courtesy County News Center

The first chefs and entrepreneurs interested in turning their homes or apartments into mini-restaurants were able to apply for a “Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations” license Friday as the county officially opened its application process.

The San Diego County Board of 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.

According to a county statement, County Department of Environmental Health and Quality staff and members of the San Diego Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations Coalition greeted several dozen people Friday at the County Operations Center to help them navigate the application process and answer questions.

Home cooks who want to operate a microenterprise kitchen are 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 allowed microenterprise kitchens in 2019 with restrictions, including limiting the number of full-time employees to one, food must be prepared on served on the same day and sales are limited to $50,000 a year.

County Board Vice Chair Nora Vargas and Supervisor Joel Anderson asked the board to approve the 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.

“We have an opportunity to uplift non-traditional entrepreneurs” who have been part of a non-traditional economy that has existed for decades, Vargas said in January. “This policy is going to remove barriers,” she said, adding the county “can make true transformational change” while also supporting delicious cooking.

According to the county, comments collected in public meetings and hearings also stated that home-kitchen restaurants had numerous potential economic and community benefits such as giving 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.

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

County staff plan to study local home-kitchen restaurants during the two-year ordinance and bring that data back to the board to consider whether to make it permanent.

City News Service contributed to this article.