Going Legit, Part 3: What's the Minimum an Underground Market Vendor Needs?

Categories: Street Eats
sf-underground-market-mofoods-1.jpg
Mo Foods at the Underground Market.
Part three of a series in which SFoodie asks the question: With the Underground Market now shut down, what would it take for San Francisco's aspiring food microventures to go legit?

Before SFoodie gets into the specifics of what it will take to sell your products at a grocery store or farmers' market -- those posts will appear on Monday and Tuesday -- we wanted to double back to a basic question which unfortunately is now hypothetical:

If the Underground Market (or a similar market featuring products from small-scale, startup producers) were a fully permitted venue and/or event, what would the Health Department expect every vendor to have?

Skip the business-related permits and fictitious business name filings we mentioned on Wednesday. They're important for anyone making a go at owning their own business, but not necessary for testing the waters on whether anyone will like your new bacon-wasabi chocolate sauce. But when SFoodie talked to Richard Lee, director of San Francisco's Environmental Health Department, he was firm on a few things.

A must: The food would have to be prepared in a licensed commercial kitchen. "People can't make food at home and sell it to the general public," Lee said. "A lot of people want to, but they just can't."
The other thing every vendor would need, Lee says, is a temporary event permit. Here's the Health Department's online page with downloadable application forms and fee schedules.

There are two types of permits -- low hazard (vendors selling prepared foods) and high hazard (vendors selling food prepared on site -- that includes chopping, dicing, and assembling, not just cooking). A high-hazard vendor would need to pay a $99 application and inspection fee plus $88 permit fee, or $187 total. A low-hazard vendor would pay $38 for the application fee plus $57 for the permit, or $95 total. Those permits are good for one- or two-day events.

The other permit that Lee says vendors would need to have is an annual caterer permit. The nonrefundable application fee is $308, and the annual fee is $350. The funny thing about this fee is: SFoodie has combed the health department's website, and can't find an application. We have yet another e-mail out to the department, and will update this as soon as we hear back.

By our calculations, the minimum a vendor could pay to sell at a market is $753, and that's for a one-day permit. That's all a hell of a lot more expensive than the $50 entry fee that the Underground Market was charging, to be sure. But for the moment, we're still in the realm of the hypothetical.

The full "Going Legit" series:
 - Part 1: Getting a business license
 - Part 2: Working out of a commercial kitchen
 - Part 3: What's the minimum an Underground Market vendor would need to be legit?
 - Part 4: Selling at the traditional farmers markets
 - Part 5: Selling to grocery stores
 - Part 6: The future of the Underground Market

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.
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