SAN DIEGO – For Rie Sims, cooking isn’t just a hobby. It’s her passion.
“This is heritage for me, you know, to be able to introduce Indonesia to America,” Sims said.
Thanks to the new home kitchen program approved Wednesday by San Diego County supervisors on a unanimous vote, Sims essentially can operate as a mini-restaurant right out of her home called Warung Rie Rie. Supervisors approved a second reading of the ordinance allowing the operation of home kitchens, or “MEHKOs,” which will take effect in 30 days.
On Jan. 12, supervisors unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance, which includes requirements or operational provisions for categories including food safety certificate, allowable food storage areas, the number of MEHKOs allowed per residence, potable water and ongoing testing.
Sims plans to serve food from her kitchen to customers in their backyard with husband David Sims as host.
Their food comes to life through dining in the backyard, where you’ll eat inside their traditional rice house they sent over from Indonesia. They’ll operate by reservation only and require guests to be fully vaccinated or have proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
“It’s not your typical you’re packed in with 50 other people just here to eat (and) leave my alone,” David Sims said. “Here, it’s an experience. It’s you’re learning some culture, you’re getting to know us, we’re getting to know you.”
Supervisor Nora Vargas first proposed allowing MEHKOs last September along with colleague Joel Anderson. According to Anderson and Vargas, MEHKO benefits include:
- significant economic opportunities for small-scale, home-cooking operations, which are primarily operated by women, immigrants, and people of color;
- encouraging existing “informal” home food operations to become safer and legal;
- enabling family members to continue providing in-home care for developmentally disabled and/or older relatives while still earning much-needed income;
- creating another path to supplementing family income for those hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic;
- letting aspiring restaurateurs to try out a menu while learning the basics of what it takes to run a small-scale retail food operation;
- providing additional food service options in remote locations; and
- kitchen operators paying state taxes and acquiring business licenses.
According to Anderson’s office, the model for home kitchen operations was introduced in the state Legislature in 2018, and allows counties to authorize permitted home kitchens through an ordinance. There are limitations, including that the food must be sold on the same day it was prepared, and an annual earning cap of $50,000.
Several callers praised the decision. One woman said MEHKOs will not only help operators recover financially, “but physically, emotionally and spiritually heal as well.”
“This ordinance will be a game-changer for the community,” she added.
While another caller was concerned about MEHKOs having proper insurance coverage, Karen Melvin, with the San Diego Microenterprise Home Kitchen Coalition, said there are companies that will cover them.
“I look forward to bringing back good data and one success story after another,” Melvin said about the program.
The new program not only gives the community a taste of various cultures, but it allows aspiring restaurant owners like Rie to see what it’s like to own a restaurant without dropping serious cash to do so.
“I can spend time with my kids I can still bring them to the school I can still spend all my life right here because this is the magic of the house,” she said.
Supervisors participated in Wednesday’s meeting via teleconference, as a precaution during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
Copyright 2022, City News Service, Inc.
FOX 5’s Kelsey Christensen contributed to this report.