Southwark restaurant owners push back health inspector, who shuts it down for 2 days

You can fight the Town Hall, but not during the dinner service.

Southwark Restaurant in Queen Village opened two days after a city health inspector closed it after owners rejected his attempts to perform a routine inspection at the busy restaurant around 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Chef and co-owner Chris D’Ambro said his wife, Marina De Oliveira, asked the inspector to wait outside when she entered Southwark, which had 50 patrons inside. When D’Ambro came out of the kitchen and found the Inspector, she told him she was annoyed that she had to wait outside. D’Ambro told him that he did not have time to accompany him during the inspection, as chefs often do. He asked if she could come back.

The inspector offered two options: allow him to do the inspection then or face an immediate shutdown for 48 hours, pending an inspection. The city guidelines include a refusal clause that requires food establishments to agree to inspections, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said.

When D’Ambro again asked him to report, the inspector called his supervisor. After the call, the inspector told her she was calling the police. At that point, D’Ambro said he was okay with the inspection, but the inspector told him she wouldn’t.

The restaurant was closed and police officers stood by as patrons received their checks and boxes of uneaten food. The inspector affixed a notice of cessation of operations on the glass of the front door, which, D’Ambro admitted, De Oliveira had attempted to scratch.

The restaurant was assessed an abandonment fee of $ 315.

The health ministry said the inspector called D’Ambro “combative”. D’Ambro said, “She was about to disrupt my business.”

Routine inspections typically last one to two hours and cover all areas of the restaurant, including storage, kitchen, washrooms, exterior, and bar. They are carried out while establishments are operating to assess food handling practices, a health ministry spokesperson said, adding that the ministry tries to inspect them at least once a year.

There are no rules for the timing. Restaurants may be inspected during preparation or service work.

A spot check of recent routine inspections at other full-service restaurants showed inspectors arriving at different times, from late morning to lunchtime. Some took place during prime time. For example: On Friday, September 17, 2021, according to records, an inspector visited Forsythia in the Old Town from 4:45 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. and followed up at the nearby Buddakan from 6:20 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

For the last Southwark inspection, September 25, 2019 – also a Wednesday – the inspector checked in at 4:55 p.m. and left at 6:15 p.m. D’Ambro said the restaurant was not occupied during this inspection at dinner time.

“For them to expect that they can come in and disrupt our business is completely unreasonable, especially nowadays,” D’Ambro said. Southwark has been closed for indoor dining from mid-March 2020 to the end of September 2021. “You’re going to come here and disrupt our guest experience, walking here with a flashlight among people who eat, “he said.

While the attempted inspection was apparently appropriate, the abruptness of the shutdown was disturbing. Among those uprooted was D’Ambro’s mother, Gail, who had stopped for the first time since the pandemic for dinner on her way to the Andrea Bocelli concert at the Wells Fargo Center. D’Ambro said one customer requested a gift certificate for their problem, while another customer paid $ 400 to help staff who had lost money on tips.

“I was a little disturbed because I was [thinking] “It better be a good reason for everyone to leave when the dinner rush starts,” said Jessica Parker, a customer who was there with her mother. She called the closure “an abuse of power”. … I don’t want my tax dollars going to tear down restaurants that have already suffered enough from COVID. It’s so irrelevant and all the staff are wearing masks and everyone is following the rules, from what I’ve seen. “

The health ministry spokesperson said the inspector “had no choice but to call the police due to the way our staff member was being treated. This is our policy. We don’t want to shut down an installation. We’re just asking these places to do what every other food establishment in town is doing. … Harassing our inspectors and telling them to stay outside in the cold is neither normal nor excusable.

D’Ambro said he was also concerned about the optics of the sticker on the door, which could suggest Southwark was having sanitation issues. The restaurant, which he and his wife bought in 2015 and reopened in 2016, has not been sanctioned or closed before. D’Ambro prides itself on hygiene; he has a chef’s table in the kitchen.

Another inspector arrived at 3 p.m. on Friday for a scheduled inspection, and the restaurant passed.

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