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Local entrepreneurs ramp up as San Diego County legalizes home kitchen businesses

Commercial home kitchens are about to become legal in San Diego County. KPBS Speak City Heights reporter Jacob Aere says the change in policy is a huge relief for some small business owners in the region, including in National City.

Commercial home kitchens are about to become legal in San Diego County.

On Feb. 25, San Diego will start accepting applications for Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations, also known as MEHKOs, pronounced MEEK-ohs.

These are businesses that cook and sell food from residential kitchens.

Patty Corona is excited to start a home kitchen business catering to seniors at her mobile home park.

RELATED: San Diego business owners optimistic about upcoming home kitchen business law

She learned how to cook nutritional meals at Olivewood Gardens as part of National City’s Cooking for Salud program, which Corona now coordinates.

“When we learned about MEHKOs, it was a great idea for us and we support it,” Corona said. “It's a combination of our dreams and the things we have been learning, training for all these years. And we never figure out that they would converge and become a reality. To have a MEHKO, it's just to feed a bigger family.”

Jacob Aere
Food ingredients lay on the kitchen counter at Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center, Feb. 10, 2022.

Legalizing MEHKOs in San Diego has been in the making since California allowed for their introduction in 2018.

Roya Bagheri is the executive director of the nonprofit C.O.O.K Alliance organization, the group that helped lay the groundwork for the home kitchen policy change in the state.

She said there was still more work to do.

“Especially in areas where there are food deserts, this is providing more healthy access. We just want to shine the light on these home-based food entrepreneurs and show that this is a really great option and opportunity and hopefully have that grow across the country,” Bagheri said.

Jacob Aere
A Cooking for Salud volunteer prepares oranges for a cooking class inside the kitchen at Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center, Feb. 10, 2022.

Corona and at least four other Cooking for Salud “kitchenistas” intend to share the lessons they learned from their organization through home kitchen operations in and around National City.

She sees her business model building off of her previous catering business, which shut down during the pandemic. All she needs now are the right permits.

“I don't know how this could apply if you have a regular home, if you are renting an apartment, or, like in my case, I live in a mobile home park. So that's my main concern. If that's not a problem, that means it’s a go for me,” Corona said.

RELATED: San Diego County Supervisors formally approve home kitchen program

A virtual training workshop will be held by the county’s Food and Housing Division on February 15 to help business operators understand how to legally run a home kitchen business operation.

Translation services for multiple languages will be offered at the event.

Jacob Aere
Patty Corona talks with chef Joe Pastry in the kitchen at Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center, Feb. 10, 2022.

The county’s policy action will authorize MEHKOs throughout the San Diego region for at least two years.

County staff said they would study local MEHKOS during the temporary authorization of the ordinance and bring back that data to the Board of Supervisors before the ordinance expires for their consideration on whether to make it permanent.