Hobby chefs who make money doing what they bake, roast, or otherwise produce will soon find a more willing partner in their business in most North Bay counties.
While COVID has put this on hold, a door opened by a 2019 state law allows counties to enact rules for the inspections and training requirements required to get home cook permits.
Of all the counties in North Bay, Solano is the furthest in implementing state law on micro business kitchens, or MEHKOs (pronounced MAY-co). The district wants to enable entrepreneurs to start the approval process. The law allows new and illegally operating companies to comply.
“I still have the original paperwork that I started in 2014. I thought it was too much trouble and decided to do what I do and pray things worked out and that happened, ”said Veronica Bearce, who runs Veronica’s Veggies out of her Benicia home.
Now she wants to get MEHKO certified.
What is happening in the north bay?
The MEHKO Act builds on the much more restrictive California Homemade Food Act, which came into effect in 2013. The original cottage food bill allowed home cooks to pack foods like canned foods or make anything that didn’t require refrigeration.
The rules for MEHKOs have lifted the lid on what a home cook can legally prepare and sell. This means that milk, eggs, vegetables, meat, and fish are potential ingredients.
While some think home cooks will compete with brick and mortar establishments, the restrictions placed on these small establishments do not appear to pose a threat to restaurants.
“It was not a conflict and our members are not complaining about it,” said Amy Cleary, spokeswoman for the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, of the MEHKO law. The San Francisco-based group has members with restaurants in the North Bay.
The California Restaurant Association has not commented on the state’s laws.
Limitations in the bill are intended to keep the business small so that garbage, traffic, and other potential problems associated with running a commercial operation in a residential area don’t show up.
In addition, annual gross sales cannot exceed $ 50,000. In addition, the home cook can only prepare 30 meals a day or 60 a week.
As the most advanced company, Solano County is already training home cook managers in the new rules. The Solano Small Business Development Center held a workshop in May that was attended by more than 50 people with different backgrounds and connections to food. Another webinar is planned for June 8th.
“I have also appointed two SBDC consultants who will work with anyone who wants to start a MEHKO company. We support them with district applications, food safety courses, setting up their operations, menu development, food costing and marketing, ”said Tim Murrill, Executive Director of the Solano Small Business Development Center. “This is the first time many have run a business and we can help them every step of the way.”
He said the benefits to existing businesses include:
- Comply with regulations and avoid closings and fines if the county finds it is operating from home without MEHKO certification.
- Giving prospective customers the assurance that they are a MEHKO certified company as it means that they have gone through all security and licensing protocols.
- Get support from the SBDC to help them succeed.
Solano SBDC also covers the cost of $ 175 for 20 people to earn a ServSafe Food Manager certification. According to ServSafe, the courses provide “sufficient knowledge about food safety to protect the public from foodborne diseases”.
Sonoma: Maybe in late summer
While Solano has taken the lead, other jurisdictions, with the exception of Napa County, are starting to set up home cooking programs.
The MEHKO regulations are due to be on the Sonoma County’s Board of Directors agenda on September 14th. With staff still gathering information, it’s too early to know if an actual regulation will be voted on this Tuesday or if the topic might just be a discussion point.
The full board expressed its support for MEHKOs at a strategic planning meeting prior to the pandemic. Supervisor Lynda Hopkins continues to lead the local effort.
“It can be an important economic development tool for our community. It can encourage more small businesses to start in our county, ”Hopkins told the Business Journal. “I’ve heard such positive reactions from voters; so that they can generate additional income in a county with such a high cost of living.
“This type of opportunity can be a positive way for people to make money during difficult economic times, especially for some of our most vulnerable residents who have more barriers to accessing traditional employment,” she added.