Stambler holds his baking peel in front of the oven in his Los Feliz back yard, where he bakes artisan bread.

Stambler holds his baking peel in front of the oven in his Los Feliz back yard, where he bakes artisan bread. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

When Los Feliz resident Mark Stambler won some awards at county fairs for his home-baked artisan breads a few years ago, he thought he might start selling them to local restaurants and stores.

So he did. Stambler’s breads – French, wheat and rye – soon became a hit with customers who bought them at nearby gourmet shops.

But in June, Los Angeles County health inspectors swooped down on the Silver Lake and Echo Park stores that were selling Stambler’s breads, confiscated every loaf and told the store owners that they shouldn’t stock his products.

Stambler and the grocers had run afoul of arcane county laws banning the commercial sale of home-baked goods. He was surprised.

“I wanted to do this legally, baking my breads at home and sell them under my own name,” he said.

To address the problem, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, who represents the Los Feliz area, introduced a bill earlier this month.

If it becomes law, AB 1616 would help home-based microentrepreneurs like Stambler and hundreds of others who make small amounts of food to sell at local stores, farmers markets and swap meets. Such a state law would trump county law, although counties could add conditions and requirements.

Stambler’s trouble began when his bread-making venture was featured in a newspaper profile. Inspectors showed up at the stores the next day.

He soon learned that the only way he could continue selling bread was to find a commercial bakery or food preparer where he could work as an employee and use their facilities.

Stambler, 58, was able to find a bakery, but by the time the county finally gave its approval to allow sales under his name, the kitchen was no longer available.

“By the time I got county permission, it turned out to be a pyrrhic victory,” he said.

So Stambler lent his support to Gatto’s effort to pass state legislation legalizing home-based food businesses.

Gatto told the Business Journal last week that the law governing Stambler’s home-baked goods was Byzantine and unclear. He didn’t want such a law to kill what could become a successful bakery.

“We should never be in a position of stifling a business before it starts,” he said. “If a business takes off, like Entenmann’s (brand of baked goods), that is wonderful. That’s what we want during these economic times.”

Gatto’s bill would allow the sale of home-baked foods classified as “low-risk” to public health, such as breads, dried fruits and pastries. The sale of other home-prepared foods that carry higher risk of food-borne infections, such as produce or poultry, would still be banned under county and state health codes.

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