Looking to buy or make and sell home-cooked dishes locally? Good news is on the horizon as the city of Berkeley takes steps toward issuing permits for food sales by home cooks and Alameda County explores ways to develop an equitable home-cooks program.

In 2018, the governor signed AB 626, allowing California counties and cities with their own health department (like Berkeley) to issue permits for Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations (MEHKOs). Authored by Riverside County Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, the law allows for the sale of most hot or cold dishes sold on the same day they’re prepared. Cooks can have no more than one full-time-equivalent employee and can earn up to $50,000 in gross annual sales from their small-scale business.

The new law is viewed by many as a way to create economic empowerment for home cooks, including immigrants, women, and people of color. It substantially expands the types of foods home cooks may sell, which was previously limited to baked goods, preserves, and other items considered low risk for spoiling.

In October 2019, the Berkeley City Council authorized the permitting of MEHKOs. According to Kelly Wallace, Berkeley’s interim director for Health, Housing, and Community Services, the city’s environmental health staff are actively working with planning, fire, and code enforcement departments to create the program requirements needed to issue the permits.

Exact permit fees haven’t yet been established but are expected to be approximately $800 or more. The nonprofit COOK (Creating Opportunities, Opening Kitchens) Alliance, a coalition that helped to sponsor the bills, plans to raise money to help with affordability. COOK Alliance coordinator Matt Jorgensen says the organization will be launching a pilot Equity Fund in Alameda to offset permit costs for low-income cooks. Stay tuned for more info and the chance to buy your dinner from a neighborhood cook.

—Rachel Trachten