Lyle's Blog

Don't fear the the inspector.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I have had many different health inspectors over the years. Friends with some, almost enemies with others, it is the one person that every restaurant owner/manager dreads. Why? Because he holds all power and you can never challenge him. I should correct myself there, you can challenge him but he can get you back later. It is best that you keep a mutual respect of one another and that keeps the relationship healthy.

My first inspector told me that as a 24 hour restaurant, I should never expect perfection. As a matter of fact, he said, I should never expect to have an exceeded rating. Back then, a rating over 90 was exceeded. I took up that gauntlet that he never really meant to drop and a year later, his one question answered by himself (How long have those pies been out cooling? Wait a minute, I eat the pies here, I know how long.), I got my one and only perfect score and my first of exceeded ratings that I held until they dropped it back in the 90's to pass or not pass (I could never figure that one out, they said it gave some of us advantages in our marketing that should not come from them or something like that.).

Shortly after the restaurant expanded and we became a diner, there was a very hard cased inspector that the word got out and was feared. The first time I met him, he boldly walked in the door and introduced himself. He said, "Hi, I am ______ and I am here to shut you down.". I had been having some consistency problems with the new cooks that were needed to man the larger diner and he knew right where to go but found that the problems were resolved. From then on, every time I found a solution to a problem in his realm, I called him up and invited him down to check it himself.

I recall him hitting me twice for reheating in a steam table. It was his understanding that no steam table would reheat in an hour and so any steam table was not good enough. He wanted all to be be reheated on the burners. I found a product in a magazine called "Heat and Serve". The coil in the bottom was actually in the water and their claim was that it could heat fast enough that you could legally reheat there. I purchased one and brought him in with his stop watch. I don't know how many people he sent my way to find out where this new invention could be bought. I was even told by one associate that he had told them that if you want to find a way to correct a problem, just see me. I was overwhelmed by that comment.

His predecessor and I butted heads over gravy. I loved to have my gravy always reheated. When you cool down the gravy after boiling, it infuses the flavors deep into the gravy. So, we would make up gallons of gravy every day and then cool them off. But the cool off was never fast enough for them. I tried ice paddles and all sorts of other devices but always got jobbed. My problem was that I didn't stop the way I made the gravy, I just kept trying different things.

So, on the third inspection, he informed me that he was going to have to shut us down. Now that got my attention. "You can't do that", I remarked. "Watch me.", he returned and flipped around and left. I raced after him and caught him as he was about to leave in his car. I apologised for my arrogance and reminded him that their was too much at stake here. "I have 5o people relying on me for their livelihood.", I remarked. "Give me a chance, I will resolve the problem.".

I tried ice paddles while cooling in the freezer and that sufficed for him. The problem was that the steam took my compressor out in less that six months. Defeated, I had to find a gravy that would have the best flavor without cooling and reheating. I called Sysco foods up in Portland and asked for their 'gravy guru'. They put their expert on and I asked him for the best recipe to make good cream gravy that had the best flavor immediately. He asked where I was from and I said Bend. He said, "That one is easy. Call the guys at Jake's, they have the best gravy in town.". I laughed and said, "I am Jake's.".

Through experimentation and ideas from a variety of people, we came up with the right mix that we use to this day. There were a few complaints at first but we are still, fortunately, known for our gravy.

Now, I said all this to lead up to something. Just before I got sick last week, I came in to the diner and found the inspector. I quickly looked at his report and talked to him before he left on one issue. He had hit us for holes in the walls in certain places where pipes had been put in the walls before we even opened up 6 years ago. I asked him why his concern. He said that varmits could come into the room from there. I said, "First they would have to get into the building but I have traps outside and inside that are inspected monthly and the whole building is checked for any signs of them.". He seemed surprised that I would go that extra mile but I had been doing that ever since I met the owner of the local pest control years ago and we became friends. It became kind of 'an ounce of prevention' thing. He said he still wanted the problem resolved however.

So, when I got back to work yesterday, I took a closer look at his inspection report. An 85. Two criticals. One for the pie case. He made us throw out the cream pies when he found the temp to be 44 degrees. At first I thought it was because they were at the top and the door was opened up quite a bit to retrieve slices. Then I realized the problem. The compressors had been icing up so Oregon Equipment had put a thaw mode on the compressor to daily deice it. We called and had them reset that timer until the middle of the night, not when we would have the doors open.

The second critical was for one of the crew who had brought her canned beets into share with others in the crew. She left a couple in one of the fridges for her workmate and they caught us for that. You cannot have home made items in the fridge, only items that you are selling.

Three one pointers came from my extra room off of the kitchen. There is a wall that was painted in spackle paint before I moved in that has always been hard to clean. We had just cleaned it on Sunday but it still looked dirty and we were deciding whether to recover the wall. One of the crew members laid his coat on a counter top instead of hanging it on the hook provided, and the hole problem.

That got me to the last 2 pointer. He said the dish washer was dirty and needed cleaning. Something hit me there. I had just got finished checking my emails and had discovered that the chemical man, Ben ( who I trust greatly and would almost be a story of his own) had been in and serviced the machine. I found that we had delimed it the day before the inspector and so I called Ben to find out whether he had truly gone through the machine. His report back to me showed me that he was there just hours before the inspector.

He was shocked when he heard my report. "Lyle, I service machines all over the town and yours is one of the cleanest!". "Could you call the inspector and tell him.",I quipped. I saw Ben later on and asked him what the inspector had said. He told me that the inspector said that he had to catch us on it from time to time to keep us on our toes....?

What is the moral to all of this? I am not really sure. I guess just do your best and realize that there will always be something that will be found. Just grin, bear it, fix it, and keep on rolling for another six months.

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