Imagine strolling around a corner in your own residential neighborhood and ducking through a hidden gate to arrive at a tiny and distinctive restaurant venue. A folk-rock musician sings soulful originals from the roof as a small handful of other neighbors dine in various nooks among the backyard greenery.
Steamed buns filled with two different spiced meat mixtures arrive on plates garnished with a refreshing cucumber-apple-fennel salad, and there’s a peach-raspberry dumpling covered with poppy seeds and powdered sugar for dessert. The dinner is light on the pocketbook, and there's just another delightfully short walk to get back home.
This view comes from Edible East Bay editor Cheryl Angelina Koehler, who was lucky enough to attend the July 1 soft opening of Bao House, the Bay Area’s first legally permitted home-cooked-food “restaurant.” By Sunday, the story was all over local TV news, and now, predictably, the two upcoming Bao House dates (July 9 and 16) are over-subscribed.
Interested anyway? Well, read on. . .
Bao House is the Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation (MEHKO) of Akshay Prabhu. For his events, the cook makes a fusion version of his family’s steamed dumplings from India, but he does more than that. He’s also one of the advocates who worked tirelessly through the last half decade to get California AB-626 passed to allow MEHKOs like his to operate legally in any California county that establishes the necessary local permitting. Alameda County approved the program in early May 2021, joining Riverside County, which approved it in 2019 and now already has several hundred MEHKOs in full operation. Supporters of AB-626 say these home kitchen permits offer great potential for economic revitalization in the form of new income opportunities for low-income people, immigrants, stay-at-home moms, and others excluded from traditional food business ownership due to high capital costs.
In addition to helping get the bill passed, Prabhu and three friends from his UC Davis student days built Foodnome, a platform that serves as point of sale for functioning MEHKOs while also helping would-be home cook entrepreneurs through the training and permitting necessary to get their own MEHKOs up and running.
“We provide free training and onboarding services to qualified chefs,” says Isaac O’Leary, one of Prabhu’s collaborators. “Anyone interested in starting a home restaurant of their own can submit an application to join Foodnome here.”
Still anxious to try Bao House? Find Prabhu’s restaurant page here, and since he’s selling out very fast, you should click the “Follow” button on the profile so you'll be be notified via text when Prabhu posts his next menu.