House Turned Restaurant: Santa Barbara County Cooks Can Sell Home-Cooked Meals

Home Kitchen Ordinance Unanimously Passes

Credit: Jakub Kapušňák

Private residences turned local take-out restaurants may be the latest development in the food retail industry as the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve an ordinance that would permit direct sales of home-cooked meals to customers. 

Signed into law by Governor Brown in 2018, Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations (MEHKOs) can be thought of as smaller-scale restaurants operated by residents from the comfort of their own homes. Under the newly passed measure, the California Retail Food Code establishes regulations for food preparation, including packaging and handling standards, transportation, and temperature guidelines with an upper limit of $50,000 on gross annual sales.

Lars Seifert, the county’s Environmental Health Services Director, explained that the food must be cooked and served within the same day and that vendors must not exceed 30 meals a day or 60 meals per week. He added that each MEKHO can employ no more than one person full-time in addition to family members and that the food must be sold directly for on-site dining, delivery, or takeout. 

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The ordinance includes a proposed Environmental Health Services (EHS) fee of $391 for MEKHOs within Santa Barbara County, “based on square footage of less than 500 feet typical of a home kitchen, including any onsite consumer eating area, food storage, utensils and equipment, toilet room, janitorial or cleaning facilities, open-air barbeque, and refuse storage area.” 

There will also be an additional application fee of $255 as well as a $161/hour rate for regular safety and quality inspections. Seifert stated that the costs will be re-evaluated from time to time to accurately reflect the cost of the program. 

Currently, there are only two MEKHOs in Santa Barbara County that are authorized to operate: Cottage Food Operations (CFOs) and bed and breakfasts. CFOs, of which there are about 300 countywide, must obtain a permit from EHS and can only sell nonperishable foods that have been previously approved. 

“I’m very supportive [of this measure]. I’m glad to see that the county and the state are leading the way,” commented Supervisor Joan Hartmann of Santa Barbara’s 3rd District. 

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