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City Council Challenges Restaurant Grading System

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Restaurant-owners gave the mayor an earful over food inspections.

The City Council on Wednesday invited them to share war stories about unfair rules and inconsistent inspectors. Many filled Council chambers, eager to talk.

Outside the hearings, Irene LoRe the former owner of Aunt Suzie’s in Brooklyn, said onerous bureaucracy was one of the main reasons she closed the Italian restaurant in 2011 after more than 25 years, even though she had recently received an A.

“If they went to Italy, they’d close all the restaurants in Italy,” she said. “At a trattoria or a foccaceria, all those beautiful vegetables held at room temperature – and the mozzarella, the fresh mozzarella, should never be cold. Never. That’s some kind of mortal sin.”

Speaker Christine Quinn and four different committees grilled Health officials as restaurant owners shared their war stories. Quinn said she's concerned inspections are inconsistent and the department is too focused on raising revenue through fines.

"There seems to be a lack of fairness and an abundance of inconsistency throughout the food inspection process," Quinn said. "It really makes you ask yourself: is revenue generation the point here?"

Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to upstage the hearing on Tuesday, by releasing a study saying food-borne illness has declined, since the restaurant grades went into place 20 months ago. The city also says that increasing numbers of restaurants are getting A's — currently 72 percent — and that revenue from fines has started to decline, as restaurant owners institute better practices.

The mayor's office also released a survey showing 90 percent of city residents approve of the letter grades.

But the City Council released its own survey on Wednesday. It showed 85 percent of restaurant owners say the letter grading system is "Poor" or "Fair." Less than 5 percent say it's "Very Good" or "Excellent."

The Health Department countered that the city council the survey is unsound because it is not a random sampling of restaurant owners, and people can take it multiple times.

Quinn and the Council acknowledged the survey is "informal" and "not scientific," but they nonetheless trumpeted its findings.

Not all owners criticized the city. Wylie Dufresne, owner of the much-acclaimed WD-50 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, said food inspections and the letter grade system benefit restaurants and customers alike.

“I think for my staff, passing by that letter grade each day on their way to work, helps keep it front of mind for them, helps them to realize that they’re part of the solution, part of the process,” Dufresne said.

Council members said they support letter grades in general, but they want to improve the relationship between restaurants and the city.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley testified that there’s a complaint line and an independent tribunal owners can reach out to discuss problems.

“If every restaurant got an A, and there was no revenues at all from fines, no one would be happier than me,” Farley said.

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Comments [4]

Thomas from Brooklyn

The fines are way to high for small business to make it in the city every 5to6 months the city come in give you a few violation take a few thousand not a few hundreds and if you don't pay they don't renew your permits so you can't open . Plus there are no payment plans you have to pay all that once if not your cant open . It's worse then the mob when they ran the city . With the mob you can talk to with the city they don't care if you closed your doors . New York City is not for small business trust me you can't make an honest live . It's like going to the altantic city you can play on a 5 dollar table or a 10 dollar table , in nyc they don't have 5 and 10 dollar table just high rollers . It's is so worry with mom and pops store put out of business I think they are a favor of most neighborhoods . And the city is not helping but put them out of business !

Jul. 13 2013 06:16 PM
cheyenne from ny

bena from brooklyn is on the money,you have to pay your way to the A,nyc is famous for its fines.

Mar. 21 2012 10:47 AM

I teach food handling & protection & while I think this system is flawed, we needed something like this, the public would be shocked & appalled to know how little most restaurant workers know about protecting the public through food handling, only supervisors and owners are required to take the City's food handling certification course & exam & preparing for inspections & correcting the violations is the first time many food workers come in contact with the Health Dept's requirements. However, I have found some openly filthy conditions in restaurants with A grades & I don't really understand why restaurants who receive Bs & Cs are allowed to keep them & not given a time limit for correcting whatever violations got them anything lower than an A.

Mar. 07 2012 10:23 PM
bena from Brooklyn

I'm so happy to see this being brought up by City Council. If only city residents realized what a complete scam the grading system is. It has been a nightmare for my small restaurant in Brooklyn. With inconsistent inspectors, mysterious regulations, and outrageous requirements it is close to impossible to receive an A. That's right, the 72% of city restaurants that have an A hanging on their doors did NOT receive an A grade upon inspection. They paid for it. After an initial inspection, you go to court and pay fines. Then your grade is raised. You keep shelling out money to the city until you have an A grade. An A has nothing to do with cleanliness, it has to do with how much money a restaurant has to pay off the Health Department. It's legalized corruption and the city should be ashamed of itself for milking small businesses while lying to the public about its health and safety.

Mar. 07 2012 06:02 PM

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