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Alameda County Introduces Plan to Allow Pop-Up Restaurants

Pop-up chefs should be able to apply for permits this December

Pop-ups would be able to continue at The Kebabery under Alameda county’s future program.
Patricia Chang

After shutting down an Oakland pop-up and then temporarily allowing pop-ups to continue, the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health presented its plan today for formally legalizing pop-ups.

“We’re not keeping up with the recent food movement,” said Ronald Brower, director of the county health department, at a health committee meeting. “There’s more that needs to be done.”

The plan essentially allows for pop-ups to exist in already-permitted restaurants, much like Korean pop-up Nokni in The Kebabery, the incident that initially drew wide attention to the county’s stance on pop-ups. There must be at least one ServSafe certified manager onsite, and the pop-up needs to have access to the restaurant’s sinks, food prep areas, restrooms, and other spaces required for cleanliness. If alcohol is served, it needs to be done so by the host restaurant.

There will be an application and permitting process, which includes a signed agreement between the host restaurant and the pop-up as well as a proposed menu, the date and time of the pop-up, and a yet-to-be-named fee. The goal is to have the new pop-up program in place in December.

When developing the plan, Brower examined how other California counties deal with pop-ups. He found that San Francisco County is the only one to explicitly launch its own pop-up program thus far. Contra Costa County offers caterer permits for temporary events. And San Diego County allows for caterers to operate in facilities like breweries and wineries that don’t have their own food options. San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Marin Counties don’t have any formal way to deal with pop-ups, according to Brower’s research.

Alameda County is still in the early stages with developing its pop-up program, so naturally, questions still loom. Will pop-ups at kitchen-less breweries or cafes be allowed? Will pop-up chefs need to go through an application process for every single pop-up? Will the application fees be prohibitive for the young chefs who look to pop-ups as a precursor to opening a restaurant? Will there even be enough health inspectors to enforce the new rules?

Steve Joo, a chef with the Nokni pop-up, said he hopes there can be more communication between chefs and the health department as these plans move forward. “There seems to be a sense that the Department of Health is a little out of touch,” he said.

Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan noted her appreciation for the plan’s speedy timeline, because “pop-ups are part of the new economy in this area and provide a lot of opportunities, particularly for people of color,” she said.