Restaurant owners have long feared the current health code grading system from the New York State Department of Health and Mental Health (DOHMH) since they first began printing them in newspapers back in 1971, while customers have used it as the law when planning their next outing.
But does the A on you're local pizzeria’s storefront really mean your walking into a first class dining experience? Or does a C mean really mean you should steer clear?
The New Hospitality Alliance, a trade group representing restaurants, recently asked the website Yelp to hold off on posting these subjective grades until “reforms are passed by the City Council,” raising the question whether there will be some potential future accountability on health inspectors.
City Council Member Gale Brewer hasn’t said whether or not the NYC Council will be changing any current legislation, however she does agree that inspectors should have additional training, previously co-chairing a hearing last March to press the issue.
“People in the past weren’t training to be honest,” Brewer said of the past inspection practices. “Restaurants were really upset about the quality of inspectors.”
Though she said inspectors have been under-qualified in the past, Brewer remains hopeful that inspectors are properly identifying conditions that are considered unsanitary.
“If you have rats running around, you should close the damn place down,” she said. “If it’s a violation with signs or something, there should be more of an education component.”
Joseph Pace, owner of Barone Pizza at 40-12 Bell Boulevard, said he got the first C after health inspectors could not access the basement, which he explained could only be opened by the building’s landlord.
“The stupid inspector that came out, didn’t have access and couldn’t open it; so right there he gave me 28 points and failed me,” Pace said. “It was the first C I ever got.”
After Pace successfully appealed the violation, which landed critical rating on his storefront for “Duties of an officer of the Department interfered with or obstructed”, the judge on the case still required his restaurant to reapply for another inspection.
According to the DOH website, he was also written up for poorly stored cold food items, evidence of vermin and “improperly installed, in disrepair and/or fails to prevent excessive build-up of grease, heat, steam condensation vapors, odors, smoke and fumes.”
“If it gets dismissed, they should change it right away at the time of the judge drops it,” Pace said. “It really all depends on the mood of the inspector at the time.”
So far he has spent close to $3,000 for multiple inspections over the last year, blaming the unfair treatment from inspectors.
According to Pace, inspectors have even written him up for “food on the can opener” while his staff was currently cooking and using the kitchen tools.
“How can you clean it when you’re using it? I mean you would need like 22 employees, and how can we afford that,” he said. “We’re not making a million dollars like them.”
The restaurant manager at Fame Diner in Maspeth, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of possible discrimination from health inspectors, agrees the current system does not always accurately represent the sanitation of the restaurant.
“I feel they need to give clarification of the grade that’s on the window,” he said. “An ‘A’ doesn’t necessarily mean the place is 100 percent spotless or particularly safe for eating, and just because a place has a 'C' doesn’t necessarily mean it's not safe to eat there,” he added, explaining he got a deduction because the bathroom door didn’t have a built-in, automatic door closer which cost him close to $600.
Although Fame got an A grade from their last health inspection, he says he knows people with restaurants who have suffered from grade reductions that do not necessarily reflect their cleanliness.
“There have been times in the past where a friend of mines gotten an A every single time, and there was one time he got a B and he didn’t change his style of work or his cleanliness from one inspector to the next,” he said. “He got that B posted one time, the violation had nothing to do with food and he saw his business go down and it’s not fair.”
While he has worked hard for his own A, the Fame manager hopes inspectors are held more accountable in the future to prevent possible infractions on his the restaurant in the future.
“There’s no strict guideline for them, and they just do pretty much whatever they want.”