President and Director of Food Service at Brooklyn College’s Metropolitan Cafe reached out to speak on the reopening of its doors after its annual inspection found six critical violations and closed it down for a day and a half.
The laundry list of violations came as a shock for President of Metropolitan Cafe John C. Kuitwaard and Brooklyn campus Director of Food Service Joe Gallopini, who say their main concern has always been cleanliness and maintaining their A grade.
“I don’t want people to walk away thinking that we’re making a sandwich here and there’s mouse droppings on the counter or that they found any in the food,” said Gallopini, who has been with Metropolitan for 26 years. “We’re talking about crawlspace areas, wherever there’s heat and passageway for them to travel. In my word of honor, I never see a mouse…a lot of things were working against us, not to make excuses, but it’s the facts.”
Though this was the cafe’s first shut-down, the points against it were severe. They accumulated a total of 48 violation points for seven types of sanitary violations. The violations included: points deducted for “inadequate” personal cleanliness, stained and soiled clothing, lack of hairnets, “tobacco use, eating, or drinking from open container in food preparation, food storage or dishwashing area observed,” improper handling of food and a lack of vermin proofing, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Their main issue was evidence of mice, roaches and fruit flies.
Wednesday’s inspection was not a complete surprise for the Metropolitan Cafe. Though inspection dates are never given in advance, the inspections happen on a cycle and the roundabout date can be anticipated. Kuitwaard works year-round to ensure the cafe passes inspections.
“We have other measures in place to help us pass inspections,” said Kuitwaard. They have a contract with a private consulting company called Letter Grade Consulting, a group of former health inspectors that advise restaurants on how to pass NYC health inspections, visiting once a month to do mock inspections to ensure the estab lishment is up to par. Their mock inspection took place on the Thursday before their actual inspection closed the doors, and according to Kuitwaard, didn’t hint towards any reason to be concerned of a shut down.
“We pay him to come down on us very hard, that’s his job. He gave us a high B,” said Kuitwaard. “We’re going to continue using the consultant, though I am mad at him. They [health inspectors] go through waves of what they’re focusing on. Food temperatures were big a couple years ago, and refrigeration temperatures, and now it’s just gone to rodent issues. They change the rules even.”
Gallopini explained that the inspector’s gave a “more than thorough” inspection.
“I had an inspector who was training a new inspector, so they were trying not to miss anything,” said Gallopini. “So I had two people examining everything. If you read the actual report, she’s claiming that she saw 441 mouse droppings. I was with the lady the whole time, we walked around for two hours and I don’t know where she came up with that count.”
“If you write down 441 mouse droppings, it seems like we’re covered in mouse shit. So she calls that in and he says ‘closed’. I spoke to him on the phone and literally begged him. He said ‘once it’s in the system, it’s done,” said Gallopini.
Immediately after the gates slammed down on Tuesday, the cafe’s team began preparing to reopen. Brooklyn College Buildings and Grounds workers were also sent in, utilizing their list of violations to pinpoint the problem areas. They vaccummed up any mouse feces, scrubbed walls and counters, wiped up grease stains all to ensure that they would be prepared for their next inspection.
Both Kuitwaard and Gallopini explained that despite these changes in policy and attitude, some of the violations are out of their control. According to Gallopini, structural issues and pest control falls partly under the college’s responsibility.
“Basically, the whole campus is besieged with rodents because of all the construction that’s going on…even the president’s office has mice. So it’s only natural that they’re going to end up where there is food for them. It doesn’t make people feel better, but it’s not a secret that the campus has mice,” said Gallopini.
He explains that not only is the kitchen a magnet for creatures, but it has to do with the structure of the building. The kitchen is located directly over the steam generator which acts as a breeding ground for fruit flies and mice. They argue that many of the violations for vermin control are out of their hands, as small cracks that mice can crawl through are reasons that points get deducted.
“We said listen, we need to have a singular approach to addressing this,” said Kuitwaard. “We want to utilize the college’s exterminator so that he is doing the same treatment, on the same day, at the same time. So that it’s a singular attack on this problem.”
They say they have contacted Brooklyn College about the issues several times, but have not gotten a reaction until now.
“I have a whole page of those issues, like the little holes and spaces that the facilities people are already working on. We’ve sent emails to the VP and the VP of facilities and he already sent in the form for the changes,” said Gallopini. “Every time we have an inspection, we forward the list of issues over to the facility people that need to be addressed. They’ve already sent some men to start and fix them.”
According to Brooklyn College spokesperson, Ernesto Mora, facilities responded to these claims by stating, “We endeavor to address critical repairs as quickly as possible and do so within our available resources. We will continue to work closely with Metropolitan Food Services Inc. to ensure a clean food services environment.”
While the staff scrubbed on the day of the shutdown, Kuitwaard traveled from his Long Island office to file for reopening at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Downtown Manhattan, collecting and filing all the necessary paperwork which took about five and a half hours.
Once the paperwork was filed, the inspector came Wednesday night. He gave on-the-spot critiques like a clogged floor drain and cooking vats that needed to be cleaned.The staff immediately corrected all of the issues as the inspector gave the okay to reopen.
The grade is currently pending as the cafe waits another week for the inspector to come back with the official grade. This will be followed up by another inspection set for three months from now.
Kuitwaard has made it his mission to correct what is in his control to prepare for these future inspections. He wants all current and future employees to be required to complete and pass the NYC Food Service Certification. He plans to not only reimburse them for taking the exam, but provide a small bonus for travel and other expenses. He also will be increasing the frequency of his food safety consultants, Letter Grade Consulting. Finally, Kuitwaard will be working to improve pest control to be even more efficient, increasing the frequency of visits to once a week and hoping to work with Brooklyn College’s pest control to synchronize their spraying patterns to optimize rodent control.
“Everybody is on high-alert,” says Gallopini explaining that the staff have been taking even more precautions to be hygienic.
“We’re going to continue to be as diligent as we can in addressing all of the concerns that were brought up in the inspection…” said Kuitwaard. “…and do our best to maintain the ‘A’ letter grade.”