Feeling squeamish about eating inside a crowded restaurant these days? A new pickup-only restaurant debuted in Oakland this week, one of a handful of home-based eateries popping up under new county rules legalizing "microenterprise home kitchen operations." Tony's Bistro began serving up its French-inspired cuisine Monday evening.
Alameda County recently approved its first legally permitted home kitchens at a moment when rising Delta-fueled COVID concerns and increasing pandemic-safety regulations may drive demand for pickup meals and smaller eateries. The move has been in the works for some time, though; county supervisors voted in May to allow home kitchens that meet certain requirements after a 2018 state law passed that allows counties to grant permits to such enterprises.
The eateries must operate under strict regulations, including being restricted to selling a relatively small number of meals per week. Tony's Bistro is next serving a meal Monday evening, when slow-cooked lamb shank in French-inspired herb tomato sauce served with orzo pasta ($28) is on the menu, along with a start of Belgium endive salad with blue cheese, walnuts and whole-grain mustard dressing ($13).
Tony of Tony's Bistro. Photo: Tony's Bistro
Tony himself, aka Anthony Pernin, says his cuisine draws inspiration from his childhood in Lorraine, France, infused with world flavors and a California twist.
"I grew up watching my grandmother preparing meals utilizing everything from her farm to table," he writes on home-restaurant ordering platform Foodnome. "She raised chickens, rabbits and ducks and she grew all her own herbs and produce. Every Sunday, my grandma would prepare a delicious 'family meal' for an intimate seating of 22 people or more. Those Sunday family feasts are my inspiration to create memorable moments surrounding food and the gathering of loved ones."
Twenty years in the U.S. and travels around the world have brought an international approach to his cooking, though, Pernin says — including a nod to some Italian in his heritage in the form of pizza that will be available on some menus.
"I've developed a pizza passion," he writes. "My pizza dough takes three days to make! Although the execution of some of my meals might be labor-intense, I'm driven to create an experience that ignites a 'gastronomical passion' for everyone that tastes my dishes."
Slow cooked: The bistro's pizza dough takes three days to make. Photo: Tony's Bistro
Residents in many parts of the Bay Area have noticed home-cooking outfits with handmade signs and micro-popup eateries proliferating during the pandemic. The new Alameda County ordinance allowing home kitchens is a way to regulate those operations, allowing cooks to earn a legal living while also ensuring their outfits are undergoing safety inspections like those restaurants are subject to.
The movement to permit home kitchens gained favor among Alameda County supervisors concerned about the impact of COVID on the local economy and out-of-work restaurant workers. "The restaurant industry has been hit incredibly hard during the pandemic, and providing a way for individuals to continue using their culinary skills to support themselves by selling products made at home is needed now more than ever," Board of Supervisors President Keith Carson said in a statement, reported in the East Bay Times.
Palestinian chef Mona Leena Michael also stressed the benefit of legalizing home kitchens for hospitality workers experiencing financial hardship. “Not having another monthly rent to pay on top of our outrageous Bay Area rent would be a blessing and a relief for people like me, who have been wiped off of their feet by COVID and are having to start back up from the beginning again,” Michael told the San Francisco Chronicle. Michael had started a pop-up restaurant during the pandemic that was closed down by the county. As she told the paper: "It was meant to be a stepping-stone to a place where I could afford start-up costs” for a regular restaurant.
To order from Tony's Bistro, visit foodno.me/Tonys-Bistro.