Debuting with an assortment of homemade steam bun entrees and a (very delicious looking) fennel-cucumber-apple salad, Akshay Prabhu’s Bao House became the first legal home restaurant to operate in Alameda County this past Thursday.
Back in May, Alameda County began the process of legalizing home restaurants. The county’s board of supervisors unanimously voted to approve of these “microenterprise home kitchen operations,” giving chefs a green light to turn their kitchens into small restaurants. The goal at that time was to have a permitting system in place and applications to go live by July — which actually came to fruition.
The Alameda County vote is in… and it’s official 🥁— Foodnome (@foodnome) May 5, 2021
AB 626 passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors, legalizing the sale of home cooked food in Alameda County for the first time in history 🎉 A big shout out to everyone involved. Let’s get cookin! pic.twitter.com/TGLyg4wtTZ
And now with the opening of Bao House off Berryman Street in Berkeley, the county's first legal home kitchen is in open for business.
Initially reported by Bay City News, Prabhu first served his Bao buns and sides around 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon to wild fanfare. Although his current success didn't come easy nor without a history of setbacks.
Prabhu started cooking for his neighbors back in 2014 when he was an undergraduate student at UC Davis pursuing a degree in neuroscience. His home cooking eventually created so much of a local buzz that a news story was written about his meals… which then brought the Yolo County Health Department to his door; they promptly closed his small operation down.
But he morphed that initial angst and disappointment into the website Foodnome, a legal marketplace for homemade fare.
"Bao House is an homage to the humble beginnings of Foodnome and my activism in the home restaurant movement— a full circle redemption of my early dream of a steam bun cart, to the first permitted home restaurant in the Bay Area," the UC Davis graduate writes on the Foodnome profile for Bao House.
Earlier this year, Alameda County opted into a new California law — Assembly Bill 626 — that allows for home restaurants to operate legally, assuming they can meet certain health permits and protocols, as well as pay for needed licenses. Both Riverside and Solano counties are also participating in this measure.
The news organization notes that statewide it takes about an average of $250K to start a traditional restaurant. However, the total cost to start a home restaurant in Alameda County is a fraction of that at about $1K.
(That amount for starting a home restaurant includes the $696 for Alameda County’s Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation [MEHKO] permit fee, review of the restaurant’s standard operating procedures, and a kitchen inspection. Among other miscellaneous red-tape fees include a food manager’s course and exam, which usually doesn’t cost more than $180, and a $95 business license. But those looking to make their homes double as restaurants in Berkeley can look forward to a reduced MEHKO permit fee of $546.)
Though Prabhu’s original concept for Bay House was to "build a mobile steam bun cart called the ‘Baocycle,'" he's managed to keep the original idea's spirit intact — all while recognizing and appreciating the experience he's had cooking and serving people from his home.
For those interested in attending the next grand opening date for Bao House, visit foodnome.com/menus/drdjy and place your order before 8 p.m. on July 9.
Photo: Getty Images/LauriPatterson