The setting of start-up stories may soon shift from the garage to the kitchen, thanks to a new California law. Garage-based innovation has long been a seed of entrepreneurship and economic growth in Silicon Valley. Up and down the Peninsula, entrepreneurs use spare time, spare parts, and spare space to turn their side hustle into the full-time pursuit of a novel idea. Some cite these start-up stories as the latest iteration of the American Dream — the modern equivalent of turning ingenuity and persistence into income and prosperity.
San Francisco now has the chance to open another room to innovation and make more American dreams come true. Assembly Bill 626, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in late September, permits the creation of microenterprise home kitchens. In other words, the law allows people to sell food, with the exception of raw oysters, prepared in their kitchen. Notably, the law requires local jurisdictions to opt in. Once local authorities have assented to the regulation, residents can apply for a permit and then sell up to 60 meals a week, all from the comfort of their home.
For many readers, especially those who have lived abroad, this might seem like a long-overdue expansion of economic opportunity. In countries around the world, extra food provides home cooks with extra income and local residents with extra-fresh food. Yet, in the United States, restrictive regulation predicated on health concerns has stifled kitchen creativity and, in turn, economic growth.
If San Francisco selects to apply the regulation, Marina kitchens may be the first to find profit from their pantry. Three factors make the Marina a particularly good spot to test your latest recipe: home-cooked innovation here would meet a captive (and hungry) audience; there is space for successful kitchens to mature in the Marina; and tourists — already attracted to the area for its natural beauty and stores — can help spread the word about Marina kitchens to other visitors.
Reverse Field of Dreams logic — if you hunger, they will cook — has long defined the Marina. Eaters here have attracted a broad range of food providers. Restaurants along Chestnut Street and Union Street, for example, offer a taste for every tongue. The seasonal Off the Grid food trucks at Fort Mason and the Presidio make all kinds of food available to Marina residents. The wait times at local restaurants and long lines at the Grid gatherings suggest there’s a high demand for culinary creativity in the Marina. Microenterprise kitchens can help increase the supply.
COOKING UP A SUCCESS
Once Marina eaters have identified a particularly talented kitchen, these household operations could eventually form companies needed to fill vacant storefronts in the area. It’s true the Marina already has a bevy of restaurants, but not every successful kitchen would mature into traditional dining establishments. Catering businesses, bakeries focused on distribution, and instructional kitchens are just a few of the business types that could be spun off from successful kitchens.
As these home kitchens mature and spread, its likely the Marina’s reputation for high-caliber culinary experiences will deepen. With that reputation will come a core part of the Marina’s vibrancy: visitors. According to San Francisco Travel Association (SFTA), visitor spending in San Francisco amounts to $25 million a day. Even more impressive, the SFTA Dine About Town program creates more than $2.5 million in restaurant spending, which evidences how responsive tourists are to coordinated food-based experiences. This is the exact kind of experience the Marina could create by establishing a reputation for microenterprise kitchen excellence.
These opportunities are knocking at the doors of Marina kitchens. The potential for the law to incite innovation, build new businesses, and attract more people and resources to the area mean that Marina residents should prompt local officials to adopt AB 626. It’s true that home-based cooking carries some safety risks, but the permitting process and exclusion of the sale of specific foods tied to health concerns should ease the concerns of eaters particularly worried about sanitation.
Here’s to hoping the Marina becomes a hotbed of kitchen-based start-ups. With the holiday season approaching, it’s the perfect time to test your Presidio baked potatoes, Fillmore filling recipe, and Union figgy pudding on local palettes before trying to impress your in-laws.