The Boston City Council and various city departments have started looking at how to let home cooks legally sell some of their victuals and treats
The state already has regulations aimed at letting home chefs sell non-temperature-dependent goods, such as breads, cookies, jams, trail mix, honey and popcorn balls, but, of course, Boston needs its own regulations to ensure entrepreneurial home cooks are making and selling these "cottage foods" safely. Several city departments and agencies, including ISD and its health department, the BPDA, the Mayor's Office of Small Business and even the Fire Department have begun talking about the issue.
At-large City Councilor Julia Mejia requested a hearing, held today, to bring together both food entrepreneurs and city officials to begin drafting an ordinance and associated changes to the zoning code.
Mejia said there are many people who could take advantage of a city ordinance because they like to cook but don't yet have the experience or money to rent expensive commercial space.
She won quick praise from Councilor Kenzie Bok (Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, Mission Hill), who said the measure could be a boon to immigrants in an immigrant city like Boston who like to cook and who have an entrepreneurial spirit.
Councilor Lydia Edwards (East Boston, Charlestown, North End), who chaired the hearing of the Government Operations Committee, also supported the idea, but, as the owner of a triple decker, she wondered how it would all work in a city where so many people rent their apartments and kitchens.
ISD Commissioner Dion Irish said he and other city officials have been working on the premise that home kitchens would need to go through the city zoning process, which would involve a hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeal - and an appearance by the apartment's owner to give his or her OK. But even before that, the BPDA and the Zoning Commission, which is separate from the zoning board, would have to approve an amendment to the city zoning code because it currently has no provisions at all for such a thing.
English said his department is also looking at ways to ensure the foods from people's kitchens are safe - even beyond the fact they would not be allowed to sell dishes that need to be kept hot or cold, such as anything cream filled or savory meat pastries. This could include requiring would-be home chefs to take both food-safety and allergen courses - the latter consists of watching an online video, as well as setting up a system of annual inspections of the kitchens.
Still up for discussion: How much to charge for a license or fees for the new system. English, who said "there's a strong interest in our city for this," said he's hopeful the current planning process can come up with "equitable fees."
The next step for the council would be for Edwards's committee to hold a "working session" to draw up a specific ordinance to submit to the council for its approval - and, if it votes yes, for the approval of either current Mayor Marty Walsh or impending acting Mayor Kim Janey, depending on when its passed and when Walsh is approved as labor secretary and moves to Washington.
Once that happens, and the required zoning changes are made, then the city can begin offering a variety of programs to help with everything from permitting to technical and legal advice, to the new purveyors, Natalia Urtubey, the city's director of small business, said.
Edwards said that ultimately, she would love to see a way to expand ways for budding food entrepreneurs to get into the field, both by letting home chefs sell at least some temperature-dependent foods and by expanding food trucks and food carts across the city. She said that when she goes to New York or, in the before times, the Common, there would be food carts everywhere, while you never see anything like that in East Boston, even with its own large park right on the water.