New California bill expands microenterprise home kitchen operations


SAN DIEGO — A group of activists and home cooking entrepreneurs are celebrating the passage of a new California bill that will dramatically increase their ability to make a living selling food prepared in their kitchens at home.

Assembly Bill 1325, which was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on July 21, will allow people who operate “microenterprise home kitchens” (MEHKO) to sell more of their products than previously permitted by state law — a change that advocates say will help better sustain their operations.

“Home kitchen operators were previous limited to 60 meals a week,” Roya Bagheri, executive director of Cook Alliance, explained. “Now, they can do 90 meals per week … then it was 50k in gross annual sales and now that’s been upped to 100k in gross annual sales.” 

Cook Alliance is a non-profit that works to support and legalize home-based businesses.  She says before the passage of AB1325, the cap on income forced many chefs that are based in their at-home kitchen to shut down after only a few months.

“This gives them a little more opportunity to expand and grow their business and their clientele,” Bagheri said.

MEHKO permitting gained popularity during the pandemic, Bagheri explained. While restaurants were shuttered, many chefs turned to serving up dishes made in their kitchens. However, many did so without the proper food permits.California bill could allow the use of diacritical marks on government documents

“Let’s say you want to have an Italian dinner — I turn my whole backyard into Italy!” a MEHKO chef, Erlene LeCour, said of her business.

LeCour started cooking for neighbors during the pandemic free-of-cost. But, as her clientele grew, she realized it was a viable business opportunity and needed a license and permit. 

That’s how she found MEHKO. In San Diego, permits are run through the County Department of Environmental Health and Quality, costing about $642 to apply.

“Before, you could only have 10 people in your home restaurant dining in,” LeCour said. “Now, I can have 25 or whatever my capacity and the fire department says.”

“There’s a lotta different diversity in the different types of businesses,” Bagheri added. “Some people are doing cooking classes, some people are doing outside — in their backyard — these pop-up events with local artists, local musicians as well.”

San Diego County’s MEHKO permits were allowed under a temporary, two-year program. The expiration of that program is coming up next year, however, advocates are hopeful that the bill signed by Newsom this week could encourage local officials to make the program permanent.

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