San Mateo County Joins Growing Movement to Allow Bay Area Home Cooks to Sell Food Legally

San Mateo County on Tuesday became the latest Bay Area jurisdiction to legalize home pop-ups, a major victory for the informal food economy that has exploded during the pandemic.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a two-year pilot program under the state’s Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations (MEHKO) law, providing local cooks with a preferred route to sell food. food outside their home. The county will also waive permit fees and provide $ 2,500 in grants to up to 25 home kitchen operators to cover start-up costs, including food safety training, advertising and marketing.

In San Mateo County, the goal of the program is to “create entry-level business opportunities for workers displaced and negatively impacted economically by the COVID-19 pandemic,” read a note to the council of surveillance. The program is specifically designed as a launching pad for minorities, women of color, residents of low-income neighborhoods and others who have historically faced barriers to starting food businesses.

These home cooking operations are small scale, limited to selling no more than 60 meals per week. They cannot generate more than $ 50,000 in gross annual sales and can only have one full-time employee (not including family or household members). Owners must also pass a food safety exam and obtain a Food Manager Card certificate from a licensed California supplier. Once authorized, home cooks can prepare and serve food to the public, either in person or take out and delivery, just like a restaurant.

“I look forward to an incredible range of these micro-business family kitchens and eventually hope to visit one myself for a delicious meal,” said supervisor Don Horsley.

The movement to legalize home food businesses is gaining momentum in the Bay Area. San Mateo County joins Alameda County, which approved its own MEHKO ordinance in May, and Solano County, which began accepting nominations earlier this year. The city of Berkeley, which has its own health department, has also voted to legalize micro-business family kitchens, but has yet to finalize the licensing process.

California passed AB 626 in 2018, allowing state-level door-to-door food sales, but counties and cities must choose to allow local operations. During the coronavirus shutdown, chefs and unemployed residents have turned to selling homemade food to make ends meet, operating in a somewhat underground legal gray area. Several high-profile pop-ups have been closed, boosting the movement to legalize their operations.

Bao House, Alameda County’s first licensed home cooking business, opened in Berkeley in July. (It’s operated by the founder of Foodnome, a homemade food market that champions MEHKO legislation.)

Alvin Salehi, co-founder of Shef, an online platform that helps Bay Area home cooks sell food, told the Supervisory Board on Tuesday that the legislation is a “lifeline” economic. He said a woman who works with Shef was able to pay her rent and avoid homelessness with the money she earned on the website.

“Frankly, it’s a lifeline. The need for economic opportunities is more pressing now than it has ever been, ”especially for communities of color, said Salehi.

And for people who might have food safety concerns, “implementing knowledgeable regulations is actually safer than doing nothing and allowing unregulated home cooking to continue in its current form.” , said Salehi.

San Mateo County plans to start accepting applications in August and to issue MEHKO permits in October. For more information and to receive updates on permit availability, visit

The supervisory board also approved a new micro food business grant program, which will distribute $ 500,000 in grants to food cabin operators, caterers, food truck and food cart operators, commissioners or San Mateo County incubator kitchens.

“Businesses like food trucks, food carts and incubator kitchens are a way for entrepreneurs to build sustainable businesses,” said supervisor Dave Pine. “Helping these small businesses will benefit our local economy now and in the future. “

Elena Kadvany is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ekadvany

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