Inspection

In the beginning of 2017 I took over the operation of a pay-what-you-can vegan lunch café here in the heart of meat-and-potatoes Midwest America. On December first, I gave myself a daily blogging challenge to write about this café, to tell its story, and maybe figure out a little of my own story in the process. This is Post #18.


When I went to get the kitchen re-certified earlier this year, the person at the county health department mistakenly printed my certificate as “Common Ground Unity Kitchen.” I thought that was a sweet typo. They printed me a new one when I pointed out the error. No extra charge.

Dealing with the health department is fairly straightforward for us, since we have no staff — so there are fewer people making mistakes — and we don’t store much food, and we have the requisite number of sinks and paper towel dispensers and plenty of gloves and hand soap available. Since we only cook one meal a day it’s a simple job to keep hot things hot and cold things cold, to label items in the fridge, and pay attention to first-in-first-out. All that.

Still, they’re thorough. I appreciate thorough. You want people to know you keep a clean kitchen. Inspection reports are printed in the paper and available online, and nobody wants to see a violation attached to their food business. People get tetchy about that. Customers. As they should.

In all my years of coffeehouse and café ownership, I’ve had exactly one violation, a non-critical, when a sanitizer rag wasn’t returned to the sanitizer bucket after use. That’s it. It happened at the coffeehouse, where we used damp rags to wipe down the steam wands after use. There was a little tub of sanitizer beside the espresso machine, but sometimes we’d just set the rag on the machine’s drainboard between customers. It’s okay to do that now, as long as it gets swapped out over the course of a shift, but back then a coffeehouse was a new thing in this community — Starbucks had not yet discovered this town — and I suspect the folks at the health department were erring on the side of caution.

The barista who earned that citation hasn’t forgotten it. This I know, because it’s still a sore point, still comes up in conversation.

Anyway, dealing with the health department, following their regulations, it’s an act of respect. For the work — theirs and yours — for the food, for your customers. You do as a point of practice, and you do it right, because it’s part of the caring.

And your customers appreciate it, even if you doubt they ever read the inspection reports. Because they do read them. And they tell their friends.

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