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San Diego Supervisors OK first step toward home kitchen trial program

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Posted at 12:22 PM, Jan 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-12 20:07:57-05

SAN DIEGO (CNS) — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Wednesday voted unanimously to take the first step toward allowing micro-enterprise home kitchens in the county, as part of a temporary program.

Supervisors approved the first reading of an ordinance to let home kitchens, or "MEHKOs," to operate for a two-year period.

The second ordinance reading will come during board's land use meeting on Jan. 26. If the board then votes in favor, MEHKOs will be allowed to operate 30 days after that.

The MEHKO ordinance includes requirements or operational provisions for categories including food safety certificate, allowable food storage areas, the number of MEHKOs allowed per residence, potable water and ongoing testing.

Supervisor Nora Vargas first proposed allowing MEHKOs last September along with colleague Joel Anderson. According to Anderson and Vargas, MEHKO benefits include:

-- significant economic opportunities for small-scale, home-cooking operations, which are primarily operated by women, immigrants, and people of color;

-- encouraging existing "informal" home food operations to become safer and legal;

-- enabling family members to continue providing in-home care for developmentally disabled and/or older relatives while still earning much-needed income;

-- creating another path to supplementing family income for those hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic;

-- letting aspiring restaurateurs to try out a menu while learning the basics of what it takes to run a small-scale retail food operation;

-- providing additional food service options in remote locations; and

-- kitchen operators paying state taxes and acquiring business licenses.

"We have an opportunity to uplift non-traditional entrepreneurs," who've been part of a non-traditional economy that has existed for decades, Vargas said Wednesday.

"This policy is going to remove barriers," she said, adding the county "can make true transformational change" while also supporting delicious cooking.

Anderson said 100 MEHKOs are operating now in 24 cities around the state. He added that the home kitchens aren't direct competition with brick- and-mortar restaurants, but instead "allow people a way to move forward if their menu works."

For example, he said, it's unlikely that anyone would drive from Alpine to Del Mar to patronize a MEHKO.

"On every level, I just believe this is a terrific program," Anderson added.