Today Sonoma County's board of supervisors looked at adopting a statewide program allowing aspiring chefs to cook and sell food from home.
The Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations, or MEHKO for short, was signed into state law in 2018. It allows for legally operation of a home commercial kitchen. Riverside was the first county sign on in 2019 and since four additional counties and the city of Berkeley have opted into the program. Lake and San Mateo counties and opted in on a pilot basis.
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins emphasized the good intention behind the law as a way to provide more entrepreneurial opportunities.
"My understanding from the beginning was that this was really an effort to support women, immigrants, communities of color, low income communities," Hopkins said. "Providing the potential for an incubator business or to legalize, honestly, what was already happening in many communities."
If Sonoma County opts into the program, permitted home chefs can sell up to 30 meals a day or 60 a week through dine in, pick up or delivery. The kitchen can make up to $50,000 a year with one employee, in addition to family and household members.
Locals echoed support during public comment, like private chef Viviane who has dedicated the last three years to building a small farm, which a home kitchen could help support.
"One way to make the farm profitable would be make prepared food with the fresh veggies I grow," Viviane said. "MEHKO would help me make the farm sustainable long term."
But cities like Sonoma, Windsor and Sebastopol expressed opposition due to concerns about fire safety, competition to existing businesses and neighborhood disturbances.
Supervisor Susan Gorin says she has reservations about the effect on neighborhoods already full of vacation rentals.
"I'm really concerned that this will open up yet another commercialization effort in some of those impacted neighborhoods," Gorin said.
But the majority of the board voiced interest in the project and directed staff to gather feedback from all Sonoma County cities, looking at a two-year pilot program with 25 permits total, and return to the discussion early next year.