[UPDATE BELOW] The solid DUMBO gastropub reBar, which boasts an extensive craft beer menu and a great independent movie theater, was shut down by the Health Department yesterday. Their most recent inspection in May earned a respectable B rating from the department, but now owner Jason Stevens tells us, "They whacked us for a couple violations and we're being reinspected today, I hope. The violations were for general stuff; we had a hot water issue that was caused when the core electrical went down in the building on the same day the inspectors showed up. I had no refrigeration, no hot water. All the violations have been corrected today, and we hope to reopen tomorrow." When asked about the electrical problems, Stevens explained that the issue was caused not by ConEd but by local property owner Joshua Guttman, his landlord. Changes at the DOH haven't helped either.
"We failed the very first health inspection I had here in March 2006 because Guttman turned the water off when the inspector turned on the pipes," says Stevens. "He's less expensive than Two Trees [the other major property manager in DUMBO], but you pay in other ways. I'm Jewish myself and I understand the stereotype is born of some truth, and he's definitely a low-cost kind of guy. He's got me over a barrel and I can't move the restaurant. When I complained to him back then, he told me, 'My lawyers are more expensive than your lawyers.' "
A Health Department spokesperson says reBar scored 55 points yesterday and was closed "for sanitary violations including extensive mice infestation, foods not maintained at required hot or cold temperatures, foods not protected from potential contamination and facility conditions conducive to vermin." Stevens tells us, "I've lost $10,000 in sales over these two days. Thank God they didn't inspect me on Friday; I had a wedding on Saturday. I got a B on my last inspection. We would love to get an A but it's such a huge place they're always going to find something. Fruit flies show up seemingly spontaneously out of thin air! There's always going to be violations and we hope that people come back. We keep it very clean."
Asked whether the Health Department has gotten more aggressive over the years, Stevens told us, "Since the economy tanked in 2008, we have seen a major increase in the amount of inspections and we are getting cited for things that no inspector ever cited us for in the past. I'm not saying these aren't things that shouldn't be inspected, but for instance the chain that goes around the CO2 tanks and secures them so they don't fall over and burst and hurt somebody: We've had the same chain up for years. Starting in 2008 we got a violation because there were four inches of slack in the chain instead of three inches. That's a 500 fine. And my buddies in the restaurant industry were getting hit with the same things. It's the economy. The inspectors are writing huge violations to raise revenue.
"One inspector explained it to me. He said, 'Listen, dude, if I go back to the office without violations on you, they're going to think you bribed me.' I said, 'That's a fucked up system!' He goes, 'Yup. There were a lot of inspectors taking bribes, they did a huge revamp at the DOH and they told me if we come back without a violation they're going think we were bribed.' "
The reBar closure comes on the heels of popular family restaurant Bubby's getting shut down over the weekend. For the record, we've been to reBar many times and have never felt that it was unsanitary, and their movie theater is a gem. Hopefully they'll get this sorted out soon.
UPDATE 5:35 p.m.: Stevens tells us they passed the inspection and will be open tonight!
UPDATE 2:52 p.m.: Stevens writes into the comments with the following:
Guys - Jason the owner here. We'll be open for dinner tonight - just waiting on the re-inspection. Like I said to the journalist, they do this to raise revenue - feel free to ask anyone in the restaurant industry. We have had a long standing relationship with Liberty, employ two full time porters, and still we suffer.
If you like stories, here's another one that they got us on. When they come to inspect they usually do so during service. So, obviously, there's going to be meat on the grill. You par-cook some, hold it on the edge of the grill for service, and then grill it off as orders come in. For the 10 minutes it's on the cooler part of the grill it"s not in "under 40 above 140 degree" range they hit it with the infrared thermometer and bingo - you:ve got yourself a big fine. We've actually taken the ridiculous step now of throwing everything out that's being cooked the moment they walk in the door. We just clean the grills and stand there, praying the inspector is in a good mood.
And if you want further proof that the system is broken, the second you get your fines you challenge them. You get a court date and meet with a judge. You tell the judge you were treated unfairly, offer proof/explanation, and they cut the fines in half on the spot. It's like a little game - they over-fine you so they can claim they're doing meticulous work, and then they quietly apologize and give you half off. I guess it makes marketing sense on their part,
Anyway - we look forward to seeing you soon. If you want a real laugh, go look at some of the inspection reports for restaurants that got "A"s. The things written in there seem horrifying, and yet they get "A"s? I wonder how....
I'd love to hear horror stories from other entrepreneurs in the biz. maybe we need a blog to vent, I feel better already.