SAN DIEGO — Diana Tapiz is an artist whose canvas is her kitchen.
“For me, it’s all about making food beautiful and making you want to eat it,” Tapiz said.
Her mission as the owner of Tres Fuegos Cocina is to celebrate the fusion of food and culture.
“My mother taught me to love food from a very young age,” she said. “This is my way of expressing my love to them.”
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to allow microenterprise home kitchen operation, or “MEHKOs,’’ to operate for a two-year period; for chefs like Tapiz, this creates a gateway to safely and legally share food with the community.
Opening a traditional restaurant was something she couldn’t afford. The Cook Alliance estimates startup costs for a brick and mortar restaurant can be as much as $500,000; even renting a commercial kitchen can cost as much as $45,000 a year.
Roya Bagheri is an attorney and also the executive director of The Cook Alliance. She has been advocating for MEHKOs for the last few years and believes the new law is extra helpful to cities such as San Diego with many immigrant families, to help them make ends meet, but also to share their culture with the community.
“That’s our goal here, is to make this just more accessible for the people that traditionally are undeserved and would really be able to utilize this to support themselves and their families,” Bagheri said.
She said most home kitchens can begin operations for under $1,000, and that includes health department inspections, proper permits, insurance and food managers certification and training.
“That’s why this is such an incredible opportunity, because it brings more education to our community and it makes sure that the food that we’re getting from our neighbors, these legalized MEHKOs, is as healthy and safe as possible,” she said.
Bagheri also believes home kitchens provide affordable, fresh and healthy options to “food deserts” in cities.
“Especially right now during the pandemic when there are so many people that are unemployed or needing extra income, this is an incredible opportunity to be able to stay safe and stay at home and also benefit the community as well,” Bagheri said.
Tapiz is ready to roll out her new business and she can’t wait to make her community a part of her family.
“This law has changed everything for me and has given me hope to create the food business I’ve always wanted to build,” Tapiz said.
The MEHKO ordinance 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.
According to Supervisor Joel Anderson’s office, of the more than 140 MEHKOs operating in the state of California, there have been no known incidences of food-borne illness, nor any issues around the disposal of food waste.
The MEHKOs are not intended to compete with high-volume brick and mortar restaurants. They are limited to 30 meals per day or 60 individual meals per week and gross annual sales cannot exceed $50,000.