So those who saw the Taco Bell debacle in the city (as published here on this blog) with the rats who invaded the place, know what a PR nightmare that created for Taco Bell and the NYC Health Inspectors at the Department of Health(who just one day prior gave that infamous store a passing grade). Well, the DOH got slammed (and rightfully so) for that one, especially being that the whole world saw the clips of the rats running wild inside the restaurant. Since then the NYC Health Department has been on a blitzkreig, re-inspecting restaurants that may have had "minor" violations in the past and shuttering them at the sign of the smallest violation (i.e. sink being too far away from cooking element, etc). One to feel the city's wrath was famous John's Pizzeria on Bleecker Street :
Note on door of John's Pizzeria
Another spot that was shuttered was the popular Blondie's on the UES (92nd and 2nd). A sign on their door said they were "on vacation" with John's Pizzeria and had the articles posted on the door from the New York Post. For Blondie's, this couldn't come at a worst time considering thursday starts the NCAA Tournament which is any sports bar's busiest time of the year. Glen, the owner of Ship of Fools on 82nd and 2nd once told me that 20-30% of his business comes from March Madness alone. So closing down for a violation during this time period is basically a huge blow.
I must say in my humble opinion the DOH is being way too harsh with the penalties. They were embarrassed by the Taco Bell debacle and now are using that to basically set the tone PR wise. My father, for those that knew him, worked in the restaurant (air-conditioning and refrigeration) industry. He told me all the time how basements of restaurants were rat-infested because food was left around, cans were left open, etc. This hasn't been a surprise for as long as restaurants have been serving food. And it wasn't just the "dive" places that had problems, most upscale restaurants met the same fate (cracks in basement walls, food stored improperly, trash laying around). This was just all part of the restaurant life. And no patron ever cared what went on in the basement so long as the food was good and the atmosphere enjoyable. Did knowing that rats ran around the basements of restaurants or that food was poorly stored stop me from eating there? No. As long as it wasn't a blatent violation that was visible in the restaurant itself or the place was at least on the surface clean and orderly I was fine. It's like an attic or a garage, you don't expect it to be in perfect condition. If it is, it's a bonus, but if it's a bit messy and unkept you still go in anyway, right?
Personally I think the DOC needs to get off their high horses and ease the restrictions a bit. I'm sure you can find a violation in every restaurant (most of us probably have a violation in our own apartments!) but as long as it's not impeding or affecting my food nor eating environment i'm cool with it. So what if a sink is 11 feet away instead of 10. Or that the basement has a crack in the foundation. John's Pizzeria's building is like 150 years old for christ's sake. It's gonna have cracks. Basically NYC Health workers have put themselves on par with traffic cops...they have a job to do, but most of the time overexaggerate the violations so they "look good" in front of the city coffers.
And that's the way the cookie crumbles (just don't get any crumbs on the floor if you're a restaurant owner, you could get a violation that will shut your doors for good!)
Monday, March 12, 2007