By Lauren Wolfer, manager of the Palm Springs Certified Farmers Market and COOK Alliance advocate for Riverside and San Bernardino Counties
Home chef Michelle Castillo received special congratulations from Palm Springs Mayor Christy Holstege on opening the City’s first MEHKO during a City Council meeting this past June. Although Riverside County was the first in California to implement AB 626, the County’s most high profile city, Palm Springs, famous for its Mid Century Modern architecture and stunning desert landscape, waited nearly a year and a half for the first MEHKO to open within its limits. Michelle Castillo, a local artist, activist, and second generation resident, created Lola’s Kusina (which means “Grandma’s Kitchen” in Tagalog) in 2011, as an invite-only underground supper club and arts/cultural happening serving fresh Filipino cuisine. Inspired by memories of eating lunch with her family every Saturday at her late Lola Sally’s Palm Springs home, Lola’s Kusina has done community food workshops, private and public dinners, and popped up at bars, art galleries, parties, in Los Angeles, Oakland, and Coachella Valley. Seeking to capture the magic that comes from family and neighbors sharing a meal, transforming Lola’s Kusina into a legal home restaurant was an obvious choice for Chef Castillo.
Mayor Holstege, who worked as a social justice attorney before serving on Palm Springs City Council, was eager to commemorate Lola’s Kusina’s opening as a milestone for the city of Palm Springs. Holstege’s lifelong commitment to grassroots advocacy, and deep concern for issues of food and and economic justice (she has represented farmworkers in civil rights, housing, and employment litigation at California Rural Legal Assistance in Coachella, California) make her a natural champion for AB 626. Wanting to share the MEHKO program’s potential for advancing equity and diversifying the local food economy, as well a simply being an excellent opportunity for local aspiring entrepreneurs, Holstege coordinated with COOK Alliance volunteer, Lauren Wolfer, to draft a congratulatory statement recognizing Castillo for breaking new ground in the Palm Springs culinary scene.
COOK Alliance would also like to congratulate Chef Castillo on this milestone, and commend the City of Palm Springs for celebrating MEHKOs as a win for their community. Hopefully this positive reception will inspire other cities to welcome MEHKOs with open arms!
Read Mayor Holstege’s full statement (video can be seen here):
Congratulations to Lola’s Kusina on becoming the first Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation (MEHKO) in Palm Springs!
Lola’s Kusina, which means ‘Grandma’s Kitchen’ in Tagalog, is a Filipino eatery by Chef Michelle Castillo, a local artist, activist, and second generation Palm Springs resident who grew up in the Veteran’s Tract neighborhood. I am privileged to know her personally and have seen her work in the community. She has dedicated Lola’s Kusina to her family, particularly her grandmother, as well as the immigrant experience- and serves fresh, homemade Filipino food (with plant based options!) from her permitted home restaurant in the Gene Autry neighborhood.
Microenterprise Home Kitchens are small-scale food businesses operated out of a private residence. Riverside County was the first county to begin permitting MEHKOs after Assembly Bill 626 was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in January, 2019. MEHKOs are inspected and regulated just like any other food facility, so residents can safely and legally share home cooked meals with their neighbors.
This is an excellent opportunity for our residents to begin their journey in food business ownership without being held back by the traditionally high barriers of entry into the culinary industry. The majority of the permitted home chefs in Riverside County have been women, immigrants, and people of color- not only will this program make our local food economy more diverse and inclusive, it also brings opportunities for community building and intercultural education.
MEKHOs also provide a much-needed opportunity to empower households negatively affected by the job loss and economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as a pathway to getting back on their feet and starting successful businesses.
We wish Chef Michelle the very best of luck with her MEHKO and commend her for blazing the trail for home chefs in Palm Springs!