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Alameda County’s first legal home restaurant serves up backyard, takeout steamed buns

Alameda County’s first home restaurant opened its doors, or ovens so to speak, in Berkeley Thursday.

Akshay Prabhu began serving steamed buns from the Bao House at 2 p.m. with both backyard seating and takeout available.

The road to a legal home restaurant has been a long one for Prabhu. In 2014, while studying neuroscience at the University of California at Davis, he tried to sell steam buns from a cart on campus and was stopped by food laws.

Then he started cooking for his neighbors until a news story brought the Yolo County Health Department to his door and they closed him down. Born in a moment of frustration, he started Foodnome, a legal marketplace for homemade fare.

Prabhu said:

“Getting shut down by the Health Department helped me understand how broken our food regulations were.”

He said:

“I saw the positive impact of cooking for my community firsthand. Neighbors were coming together over shared meals, community bonds were strengthened, and I was able to sustain myself. … I realized that the simple act of home cooking could transform our relationships to our food and each other, and I became committed to fighting for this opportunity.”

He finished school in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and Thursday he opened Bao House.

Prabhu said:

“Bao are Chinese steamed buns, stuffed with a variety of fillings.”

He said his “original concept at UC Davis was to build a mobile steam bun cart called the ‘Baocycle.'”

With Bao House he’s preserving the spirit of his original concept while recognizing the experience of cooking and serving from his home.

Photo courtesy Foodnome Akshay Prabhu of Bao House secured the first home restaurant permit in the SF Bay Area in Berkeley, Calif. On Friday, June 4, 2021. The Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation program authorizes Prabhu to sell hot meals from his home restaurant.

Alameda County earlier this year opted in to a new California law that allows for home restaurants.

Assembly Bill 626 was signed into law in 2018 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. Since then, at least three counties in the state have opted in, including Alameda, Riverside and Solano.

Similar legislation has passed in Utah and is pending in New York and Washington.

The idea is particularly salient in the current economy, with many cooks, chefs and other restaurant workers still out of work due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chef Bilal Ali lost his job at the Starline Social Club in Oakland. Like Prabhu, Ali was shut down by health officials after he started a pop-up.

He thinks the reduced cost factor makes home restaurants easier than traditional restaurants for most people to open.

Ali said in a statement:

“The barrier for entry has always hung over us–I have to go into a massive amount of debt for something that is statistically likely to fail.”

He added:

“These permits give people the opportunity to try things out without ruining their lives. … The more restaurants and the more types of food there is, the better the world is.”

On average statewide, it takes about $250,000 to start a traditional restaurant while the total cost to start a home restaurant in Alameda County, outside of Berkeley, is about $1,000. The cost includes $696 for Alameda County’s Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation permit fee, including application, review of the restaurant’s standard operating procedures and a kitchen inspection.

Also included are a food manager’s course and exam, which costs anywhere from $99 to $180, depending on the course. The cost of a business license, which varies from city to city, runs $95 in Oakland.

Berkeley charges $546 for the MEHKO permit fee, including application, review of the restaurant’s standard operating procedures and a kitchen inspection. Berkeley charges $80 for a business license.

Bao House’s second grand opening will be July 9 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Orders can be placed here at https://foodnome.com/menus/drdjy.

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