City of Santa Rosa \\ Business \\ Opening a Restaurant
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A Step by Step Guide to Growing Your Restaurant in Downtown Santa Rosa

Opening a new restaurant can be a challenging experience and we want to make it easier for you to succeed!  While there are many considerations to take into account when opening a restaurant, this guide will focus on helping you navigate the permits, licenses, and fees you will need to take care of before you open.

Of course, topics such as business planning, financing, and market research are imperative to success as well.  The Resources section at the end of this guide will steer you toward some useful tools in addressing these important issues.

Since there are so many variables involved in starting any business, especially a restaurant, we have included general information that will give you a rough guide to the process that lies before you.  The specifics of your situation may, of course, result in a slightly different timeframe, order of operations, cost, and set of requirements.

Please note that the estimated costs of the permits, fees, etc. listed in this guide are for demonstration purposes only.  While the figures are believed to be accurate as of May 2016, you will need to consult the appropriate department/agency for the most current information.  Where possible, links have been provided to the necessary sources.




What You Need To Do:
Contact the Planning & Economic Development Department to find out what the zoning is for your prospective location and what land use permits may be required.

City of Santa Rosa Planning & Economic Development Dept
Development Review/Planning Division
100 Santa Rosa Avenue, Room 3
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(707) 543-3220
Downtown Marker
Estimated Cost:
Zoning Clearance – No Charge

Minor Use Permit - $2,445
Application Processing - $60

Conditional Use Permit - $10,676
Planning Commission Public Hearing - $1,839
Application Processing - $60

(As of 6/16 - for current info see Fee Schedule or contact department.)
Zoning Clearance – Over the counter
Minor Use Permit – Average of about six to eight weeks
Conditional Use Permit – Average of about two to three months
Planning Division Contacts
City of Santa Rosa Zoning Code
Downtown Zoning Guide

Ordinance #3944 (valid through July 2013) now makes it easier to open a restaurant downtown by allowing restaurants (with incidental bar) as a permitted use in all commercial (and several other) districts, without requirement of a use permit. 

Also, because of Ordinance #3944, if a previous operator had an approved Conditional Use Permit (Minor or Major), the approval is transferable to a new business as long as the operator is willing to operate under the requirements of the previous approval and the previous restaurant was in operation within the last 24 months with no changes in use since. 

Checking with the Planning & Economic Development Department on these issues is always a good first start.

 Things You'll Need

Non-Residential Wastewater Discharge Food Service Permit
As mandated within the Fat, Oil and Grease Program (FOG) all Restaurants, Fast Food Establishments, Caterers, Bakeries, Donut Shops, Halls and Auditoriums with kitchens, and any other businesses that do commercial cooking or food preparation are required to be permitted with a Non-Residential Food Service Discharge Permit.  Many, if not most, food service establishments cooking food/meats will be required to install a grease removal device.

City of Santa Rosa Utilities Department
Environmental Compliance Section
4300 Llano Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95407
(707) 543-3369
Food Service Establishment Program

Estimated Cost:
No charge.

Usually one day if all elements are fulfilled.

 Things You May Need

Building Permit
If you will be performing any new construction, addition, change or repair to a building, you will need a Building Permit.  If you need Planning Division approvals (such as design review or use permit), you must obtain them before applying for your Building Permit.  If new construction or exterior remodeling is involved, you will need to get final design review approval before applying for a Building Permit.

City of Santa Rosa Planning & Economic Development
Building Division
100 Santa Rosa Avenue, Room 3
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(707) 543-3200
Men Reviewing Plans
Estimated Cost:
See Fee Schedule or contact department.

Avoid costly and unpleasant surprises later by having County health officials involved early in the building/renovating process.

Things You May Need

Sign Permit
A sign can be anything visible to the public which directs attention to some person, place or thing.  Signs may either be attached to the building or a freestanding (monument) type. Most signs require planning approval so contacting the Planning & Economic Department early in the process of sign design is recommended. Design Review Guidelines apply to all signs.

A Building Permit is required for sign installation.  Freestanding signs over six feet tall require engineered calculations. A plan check fee will be required for these signs. Please note that electric signs require a qualified testing lab listing.

City of Santa Rosa Planning & Economic Development Dept
100 Santa Rosa Avenue, Room 3
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(707) 543-3220
Sign Permits
Neon Sign

Estimated Cost:
Sign Permit - $598
Application Processing - $60

(As of 6/10 - for current info see Fee Schedule or contact department.)

Do NOT order signs without first obtaining a permit. All nonconforming signs must be brought into conformance anytime a change is made. A permit is required to reface a sign. 

Things You May Need

Encroachment Permit
If you will have a sidewalk cafe, you may need to obtain an Encroachment Permit from the Public Works Department.

City of Santa Rosa Public Works Department
69 Stony Circle
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
(707) 543-3787
Encroachment Permits
Estimated Cost:
Permit costs vary per the number of inspections needed to complete a project.

$80 - Permit Fee
5% of public improvement construction cost for plan checking
7% of public improvement construction cost for inspection services

Note: Applicants with Planning & Economic Development approved improvement plans pay only the $80 permit fee. Plan check and inspection fees for these projects are collected during the plan approval process.

(As of 6/16 - for current info see Fee Schedule or contact department.)

Depending on the scope of the project, one to three weeks is the time frame for issuance of Encroachment Permits during the construction season when the City receives a high volume of applications.


Things You May Need

Alarm Permit
If your business will have a burglary or robbery alarm, then you will need an Alarm Permit.

Santa Rosa Police Department
Technical Services Division
965 Sonoma Avenue
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(707) 543-3616

Estimated Cost:
$15 annually (As of 12/10)

Alarm Permits

Things You May Need

Hazardous Materials/Waste Program
If handling any hazardous materials, generating or treating hazardous waste, storing in above ground or underground storage tanks, or are subject to business plan and/or accidental release program, then you must join this program.

City of Santa Rosa Fire Department
Hazardous Materials Program CUPA
955 Sonoma Avenue
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(707) 543-4108

Estimated Cost:
Information about fees such as those for storage of hazardous or combustible materials and annual fire permits can be obtained by calling the Fire Department at 543-3500.

Hazardous Materials/Waste Program

Things You May Need

Water/Sewer Demand Fees
Utilities fees include water and wastewater demand fees and inspection fees to pay for the cost of these services. These fees are basic utilities fees. Other fees, such as special area assessments or reimbursement fees may also be applicable. All fees are paid prior to issuance of a building permit.

Water and wastewater demand fees are charged for connection to the water system and sewer system.  Non-residential (and irrigation) fees are determined by Water Department staff and based on maximum monthly usage. If the type of non- residential use changes, additional demand fees may be due.

City of Santa Rosa Water Department
Engineering Division
69 Stony Circle
Santa Rosa, CA  95401
(707) 543-3950 or (707) 543-4200

Estimated Cost:
Varies.  See Fee Schedule or contact department.

Water/Sewer Demand Fee info

Water Faucet

Credits toward demand fees may be available based upon prior use.  It shall be the responsibility of the owner or applicant to provide proof of prior uses.  The Water Department keeps a “master file” of applicable credits.  However, discussion of these credits is not allowed without the property owner’s permission.  The property owner also decides whether or not available credits can be used by a tenant/applicant.

Restaurants employing Best Available Technology (BAT) - the most efficient hardware, fixtures, and systems - achieve a lower maximum monthly usage (resulting in lower demand fees).

If the location you’ve chosen hasn’t been used as a restaurant in the past, there may be a demand fee to connect to the City’s potable water and sewer system.  Be sure to make this determination early in the process and include any potential costs in your business planning.


What You Need To Do:
If you will have employees, or will be a business partnership or corporation, you will need an Employer Identification Number (EIN or SSN).
US Department of Treasury

Internal Revenue Services

777 Sonoma Avenue
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(800) 829-1040

Estimated Cost:

Apply for an EIN online
Restaurant tax info

Woman Filling Out Paperwork

 Things You'll Need

State Income Tax Information
Businesses should obtain the appropriate State income tax forms from the Franchise Tax Board.  All businesses are required to submit a Business Income Tax statement annually.

California State Franchise Tax Board
Oakland Field Office
1515 Clay Street, Suite 305
Oakland, CA 94612-1445
(800) 852- 5711

 Things You May Need

To File To Become a Corporation, Company or Partnership
If you are considering becoming a corporation, (either stock or nonprofit), a limited liability company or a partnership (limited, or limited liability), you must file with the Secretary of State's Office.

California Secretary of State
California Business Portal
1500 11th Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 657-5448

Estimated Cost:
Varies.  See Fee Schedule.


What You Need To Do:
If you will be selling or leasing tangible property, then you will need a Sales & Use (Seller's) Permit.
California State Board of Equalization
50 D St., Room 230
Santa Rosa, CA 95404-4791
P.O. Box 730
Santa Rosa, CA 95402-0730
(707) 576-2100

Estimated Cost:

You will generally receive your permit approximately two weeks after BOE has received your completed application.

Print forms online

Cash Register


What You Need To Do:
If you will be opening a restaurant, then you will need a Retail Food Facility Permit.
County of Sonoma Department of Health Services
Public Health Division
Environmental Health and Safety Section
625 5th St.
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(707) 565-6565
Retail Food Facility Permit information
Chef Chopping Food

Estimated Cost:
Varies according to food facility type.  Most restaurants handling food would fall into either the Moderate or High Risk categories ($1,002 - $1,123 annually).  Plan check fees may also apply.

(As of 12/10 - for current info see Fee Schedule or contact department.)
Varies.  In a situation with no construction/renovation, a permit may be issued in 7 days or less.  However, depending on individual circumstances, the process could also take weeks to months.  In cases with construction/renovation, health inspectors have up to 20 business days to review building plans.
A “New Construction/Major Remodel” Plan Check runs approximately $556.  A Site Review can also be carried out ($281) in order to lay the groundwork for a smooth permitting process.  (As of 12/10 - for current info see Fee Schedule or contact department.)

Review by the Health Department should be carefully integrated with the building permit/plan check process.  Sometimes, plans are even submitted to the Health Department as a first step in this process. (Please note that while their processes may follow parallel tracks at times, a building permit and a health permit are separate permits.)


What You Need To Do:
If your business will be located in Santa Rosa, then you will need a Business Tax Certificate.

MuniServices, LLC 
Office Phone: (855)219-4339 Mon-Fri 8:00-5:00 
Fax: (855) 219-4338 

Estimated Cost:
$25 plus $0.34 per every $1,000 in gross receipts (or portion thereof) over $25,000 (retail business multiplier)

Maximum tax = $3,000

$25 Compliance Review Fee ($10 for renewals)

Diner Scene


What You Need To Do:
If you will be paying wages over $100 in a calendar quarter to one or more employees, then within 15 days you will need to submit a registration form for a State Employer Identification Number (SEIN).
California Employment Development Department
Santa Rosa Employment Tax Office
50 "D" Street, Room 415
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(888) 745-3886

Estimated Cost:

Employment Development Department information for employers

Woman With A Bowl of Food

 Things You'll Need
To Comply with California State Discrimination Law
Employers must post the Harassment or Discrimination in Employment notice (DFEH 162) and provide their employees with a copy of the DFEH's information sheet on sexual harassment (DFEH 185) or a statement that contains equivalent information.

Employers must also provide notice of an employee's right to request pregnancy disability leave or transfer, as well as notice to request a family and medical care leave (CFRA). Employers with 5 or more employees must maintain all personnel records for a minimum of 2 years.
CA Department of Fair Employment and Housing
1515 Clay Street, Suite 701
Oakland, CA 94612
(800) 884-1684
DFEH Website

 Things You'll Need
To Comply with Wage/Hour Laws
Businesses with employees must comply with laws establishing minimum standards for wages, hours and working conditions.
California Department of Industrial Relations
Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DSLE)
50 "D" Street, Suite 360
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(707) 576- 2362
DSLE website

Things You'll Need

To Comply with Workers’ Compensation Laws
Businesses with employees must maintain Workers' Compensation Insurance coverage on either a self-insured basis, or provided through a commercial carrier, or the State Workers' Compensation Insurance Fund.
California Department of Industrial Relations
Division of Workers' Compensation (DWC)
50 D Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
(707) 576-2452
DWC website

Things You'll Need

To Comply with Occupational Safety and Health Regulations
Businesses with employees must prepare an Injury and Illness Prevention Plan. The state provides a no-fee consultation service to assist employers with preventing unsafe working conditions and workplace hazards.
California Department of Industrial Relations
Division of Occupational Health & Safety (DOSH) or Cal/OSHA
2424 Arden Way, Suite 410
Sacramento, CA 95825
(916) 263-2855
DOSH website


What You Need To Do:
If your business will be using a fictitious name, then within 40 days of the business start date you will need to file a Fictitious Business Name Statement.
Sonoma County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor
Fictitious Business Name
2300 County Center Drive, Ste. B-177
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
(707) 565-3800
Man Reading a Newspaper

Estimated Cost:
$40 fee plus $9 for each additional owner/business name, (plus cost of publishing statement in adjudicated newspaper). (If no changes, good for five years.)  (As of 6/16 - for current info see link below.)
Statement must be published once a week for four consecutive weeks in an adjudicated Sonoma County newspaper (first publication must begin within 30 days of when statement was filed).
Fictitious Business Name information


What You Need To Do:
If your business will be selling alcoholic beverages, then you will need an Alcoholic Beverage License.

Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC)
Santa Rosa District Office
50 D Street, Room 130
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(707) 576-2165
ABC website
Beer Taps
Estimated Cost:
Varies depending upon license type.  Two typical varieties for restaurants are “On-Sale Beer and Wine Eating Place” (original fee is $300) and “On-Sale General Eating Place” (original fee is $12,000).  (As of 12/10 - for current info see Fee Schedule on the ABC licensing page.)

Apply for the license in person and allow a minimum of 45 to 50 days to process the application. The law precludes issuance in less than 30 days.  The license can average about 75 days for a Person-to-Person transfer, and 90 days for an Original. Circumstances often result in a longer waiting period; therefore, before final approval and issuance of a license, caution should be used regarding extensive financial commitments, plans for grand openings, etc.

Note:  If new construction or considerable remodeling is necessary, prior approval under Section 24044 should be sought before beginning any actual work.  Only a limited number of permits may be available for a given county.

Things You'll Need

To Pay the Alcohol Sales Permit Fee
The City of Santa Rosa imposes on each ABC Licensee an Alcohol Sales Permit Fee for each licensed premises in the City of Santa Rosa where the ABC Licensee sells alcohol.  The fee is payable annually and is due no later than April 1st of each year. The amount of the fee shall be based upon the reported annual wholesale alcohol purchases for the previous calendar year.  This fee will be for the purpose of partially funding alcohol regulation, enforcement, and education programs designed to mitigate the adverse effects of alcohol use in the City of Santa Rosa.
City of Santa Rosa Finance Department
Revenue Division
City Hall Annex, 1st Floor
90 Santa Rosa Avenue
Santa Rosa, CA  95404
(707) 543-3170

For questions related to this fee, please contact:
Santa Rosa Police Department
(707) 543-3550

Wine Glasses Toasting

Alcohol Sales Permit Fee information
Estimated Cost:

Annual Wholesale Alcohol Purchases

Annual Fee

$100 - $33,333


$33,334 - $1,666,666

3/10 th of 1% (or .3%) of purchases

$1,666,667 +


(As of 6/16 - for current info, see link above.)


Music License
If your business plays copyrighted music without a license (whether you have live music, “music-on-hold” for your phone or play copyrighted CDs in your restaurant), you may be subject to a significant fine.  Fees for these licenses are collected by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Broadcast Music, Inc. and SESAC Inc.

Note:  If your restaurant will be featuring entertainment on an ongoing basis, you may need to obtain a Minor Use Permit.  Check with the Planning & Economic Development Department.

ASCAP website
BMI website

SESAC website


Certain restaurants such as brewpubs will need to pay the alcoholic beverage tax, which is a state per-gallon excise tax.

Before opening an alcoholic beverage business, an ABC applicant should contact the nearest office of the United States Treasury Department, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.  If a Federal basic permit or a special Occupational Tax Stamp is required, it should be applied for by and issued to the same persons applying for an ABC license and at the same address.

Consider garbage pickup when researching restaurant sites.  Restaurants produce a lot of garbage.  Is there a place for a dumpster nearby?  Or can you share with other local businesses?

You must have a certain amount of bathroom stalls per restaurant seats and all must be ADA (American with Disabilities Act) compliant.  If all you have is a one-seater, is there enough room to add more bathrooms?

Restaurant kitchens produce a lot of smoke, grease and odors.  Therefore, ventilation is necessary, not only to keep the dining room free of smoke but to maintain the kitchen as a healthy work environment.  Finding outdoor ventilation can sometimes be a problem in older downtown buildings.

Check to see what the parking (see Table 3-4) and loading space (see Table 3-8) requirements are for your restaurant site.  (Keep in mind that new ordinances such as #3944 may affect these requirements as well.)  Also, make sure that there aren’t any impending zoning changes that will affect your potential restaurant site.

Make sure that you are in compliance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations.  (For example, a new FDA regulation is pending that requires chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to list calorie content on their menus).


National Restaurant Association
For more than 90 years, the National Restaurant Association has represented, educated and promoted the restaurant industry.

To assist you in finding the appropriate permitting information for your business, the CalGOLD database provides links and contact information that direct you to agencies that administer and issue business permits, licenses and registration requirements from all levels of government. Much of the information is specific to the type of business and its location in California.

California Labor and Workforce Development Agency
A comprehensive guide that outlines and briefly describes the general procedures for establishing a business in California and provides links to documents that may need to be filed to legally setup and operate a business in California.

This guide provides an overview of federal regulations that affect restaurants and other food service businesses, including links to guidance that help restaurateurs stay in compliance with federal regulations.

Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
Offers one-on-one, no-cost professional consulting in business planning, loans and financing, marketing, taxes and bookkeeping. Call (707) 595-0060.

Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE)
SCORE, counselors to America's small business, is a nonprofit association dedicated to providing entrepreneurs with free, confidential face-to-face and email business consulting. Call (707) 571-8342.

Santa Rosa Retail Market Analysis Report (2010)
Provides socioeconomic characteristics and estimates of potential market demand for retail uses in the Santa Rosa retail trade area.

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Raissa de la Rosa
Economic Development & Marketing Coordinator
Keith Roberts
Economic Development & Marketing Technician
1. Zoning & City Permits
2. Tax Identification
3. Sales & Use (Seller's) Permit
4. Health Permit
5. Business Tax Certificate
6. Employment Requirements
7. Fictitious Business Name
8. Alcohol License
9. Other Considerations
10. Resources