Another lesser-known restriction is that the Alameda county health department is required to approve any menu changes. That makes staying fluid and creative in your offerings much more complicated than someone who can afford to operate out of a brick and mortar or commercial kitchen. Being able to express creativity and seasonality is what keeps your clients engaged and interested in what you are doing, but the rules as they stand now make that very difficult.
After you do all the shopping, prep and cooking, people can either come by to pick their order up from your home, you can host their dining experience at your place or you, yourself must deliver it to your customer’s residence. The rules as they stand now restrict us from other distribution methods, another requirement that could use careful reconsideration to help keep MEHKO businesses open for the long term.
Are MEHKOs even worth the effort?
Nancy Chang chops vegetables for soup. Credit: Anna Mindess
Given all this, you might be wondering why any of us even attempt this kind of service. But like anyone who bootstraps a meaningful business, the personal connection and letters I have received from people in our community has fulfilled me and the intention of the work a thousand times over. When someone writes to me and shares that they are ordering for themselves or a friend because they are going through chemo, recovering from surgery, had a baby, are healing from COVID or are working on their health, it makes the exchange feel like I am doing my part to work against the machine that keeps a great portion of our population in dis-ease.
Being permitted with MEHKO has given me the permission to embrace the opportunity of entrepreneurship through building relations with vendors who I admire, and also share my journey as a way to encourage others. I’ve been able to invest my heart, creativity and intuition into starting a small business, and this pursuit has evolved me from who I previously was. I feel more capable now and can call myself a business owner without feeling like a fraud.
What I feel most proud of is being able to use my business as a vehicle to engage my desire to create equity through our Soup Sponsor program. With the support of our community members and donors, we have donated over 400 of our soups to the Charlotte Maxwell Clinic and the Women’s Cancer Resource Center, which has been the most gratifying part of the work.
This journey has not been easy. In order to keep Purpose ‡ Hope alive, I work two jobs to keep my bills paid and the business going. I know that the future of my business is uncertain, but I have dreams of implementing aspects of social justice in my operation by — someday — employing people who have barriers to employment, such as those who have been unhoused. That makes the current sacrifices feel like the vision is worth inching towards day by day.
I see food as a way for us to tell a story about who we are, where we come from and how we care about one another. MEHKOs are a way to give someone the keys to exploration in an industry that would otherwise make it impossible for the average person to tell their story, to share their gift and experience the risk and work it takes to serve someone they don’t know a delicious meal. Most importantly, it takes a community that is aware of their work and is willing to support them in a way that allows them to become successful in what they do.
Nancy Change is the owner of Purpose & Hope, an Oakland-based Micro Enterprise Home Kitchen Operation (MEHKO). This article is her opinion, and does not reflect the opinions of Cityside or East Bay Nosh.
Featured image: Ingredients for soup from Nancy Chang’s kitchen. Credit: Anna Mindess