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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Health Department Proposing New Fees for Food Vendors, Capping Others

Posted By on Thu, Jun 10, 2010 at 4:33 PM

Alemany vendor Malaysian Lacy Crêpes would be affected by the new rule. - ANNA C./YELP
  • anna c./Yelp
  • Alemany vendor Malaysian Lacy Crêpes would be affected by the new rule.
San Francisco's Department of Public Health is proposing a new regulation that would require food vendors to obtain an annual catering permit. The cost: $350. At the same time, the Department has decided to cap the cost of a temporary events permit for food sellers ― something hot food vendors at farmers' markets need to pay every three months ― to $250 a quarter, less than half of what some vendors currently pay.

Richard Lee, the Department's head of regulatory programs, said the annual catering permit requirement would apply to food businesses that cook in permitted facilities such as La Cocina in the Mission and Eclectic Cookery at Hunters Point. "If someone's cooking out of their home kitchen, then obviously they would not be required to obtain the new permit," Lee said.

Facilities like La Cocina are already inspected by the Health Department. If passed, the law would require inspectors to sign off on individual vendors in those prep kitchens, creating what Lee called a "significant new workload" on inspectors, estimated at 100 to 125 new inspections visits per year. The Board of Supervisors will have final say on whether the new regulation goes into effect, perhaps as soon as this month. If passed, the new permit requirement could go into effect July 1.

The idea for the regulation came from the vendors themselves seeking what Lee called "legitimacy." But La Cocina programs manager Leticia Landa said she'd only just heard about the proposed permit. "We certainly did not ask the city to create a new requirement," she said, adding that an extra yearly fee of $350 would have a big impact on prepared foods vendors at venues like the Alemany market. "The cost of the Health Department fees for special events and farmers' markets are already the biggest expenses that these caterers are paying."

Malaysian Lacy Crêpes vendor Azalina Eusope operates out of La Cocina. She has a stall at the Saturday Alemany farmers' market and caters special events. Eusope expressed frustration at the fees she pays to local agencies. Eusope has been paying $650 for a quarterly special events permit ― now capped at $250, according to Richard Lee ― even though she sells weekly. "They're charging us all these fees, we can't make money," Eusope said. "At the end of the day, I can't bring anything home. I cannot even hire anybody because of all these fees and permits I have to pay ― there's no room to grow my business."

Even with the new annual catering permit of $350 ― if passed, Eusope's overall yearly Health Department fees would shrink, from $2,600 currently, to $1,350. Still, she says, that's significantly more than the $950 annual fee brick-and-mortar restaurants pay. "This is a dilemma that a lot of farmers' market vendors have with the Health Department," Eusope said.

Follow us on Twitter: @SFoodie. Contact me at John.Birdsall@SFWeekly.com

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