West Tisbury selectmen last week took the owners of the popular State Road Restaurant to task for turning a basement storage area into a prep kitchen, in violation of the restaurant’s special permit and without any building permits.
State Road Restaurant owner Jackson Kenworth appeared before selectmen at their Wednesday, August 21, meeting and said he would not appeal fines that total $1,600. Mr. Kenworth apologized to the selectmen for the violations. “We were in the wrong,” he said.
The violations of the restaurant’s special permit came to light following a routine health inspection by board of health agent John Powers. On August 13, Mr. Powers discovered that Mr. Kenworth had converted a basement space permitted only for refrigeration and storage into a prep kitchen.
The conversion work, which included the addition of plumbing without a permit, was also in violation of the town’s plumbing and building codes. Mr. Powers alerted town building inspector Ernest Mendenhall, who fined the restaurant $300 per day until the prep kitchen was closed.
In a telephone conversation with The Times Monday, Mr. Mendenhall said that the plumber who did the work, as well as the contractor, could be fined for performing work without permits. Mr. Mendenhall said he did not know the identity of either. He said that Mr. Kenworth said he could not remember who had done the work.
“We are looking for resolution of the problems more than punitive action,” Mr. Mendenhall told The Times Monday.
Mr. Powers said he never completed his health inspection. “I stopped the inspection half-way through due to the violations,” Mr. Powers said Tuesday. “I saw a kitchen in the basement.”
Mr. Powers said that he knew there was a zoning violation and made a verbal report to the building department. He said he had reason to believe the kitchen was in use for about two months.
“The fire chief told me the fire department had been in there for an inspection a couple of months before me and that the basement was being used as storage then,” he said.
On Thursday, August 22, following his appearance before selectmen that Wednesday, Mr. Kenworth and his lawyer, Douglas Husid, a managing director of the Boston law firm of Goulston & Storrs, appeared at a regular meeting of the board of health. They were not asked to appear but did so because the restaurant inspection was on the agenda.
Mr. Powers said Mr. Husid declined to name the plumber until he and Mr. Kenworth were able to speak. It was a moot point.
“[Robert] Spike Smith of Walter Smith Plumbing came in on Friday and told me he had done the work,” Mr. Powers said. Mr. Smith could not be reached for comment.
For Mr. Kenworth, who has generally been on the receiving end of accolades for his restaurant, last week’s selectmen’s meeting proved mighty hot. Selectmen Richard Knabel and Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter did not mince words in describing the violations or the penalties should another violation occur in the future.
Mr. Knabel said that under the town beer and wine regulations, the selectmen have the authority to revoke a license if any town bylaw or ordinance is violated.
Selectman Cynthia Mitchell spoke against taking that approach. “It’s fair to say there’s a zoning violation,” she said. “I think State Road is cooperating to the maximum extent on this, having essentially admitted the wrongdoing.”
Mr. Manter was less conciliatory. “To me it is not a misunderstanding of a regulation or a misinterpretation. To me, it is a blatant violation of what you knew you were supposed to do, and that disturbs me,” he said. “The zoning board of appeals and a lot of other people worked hard to let you do what you would do.”
Mr. Manter agreed with Ms. Mitchell not to lift the beer and wine license, but added a cautionary note. “The slightest violation I will not tolerate in the future,” he said.
Mr. Kenworth said the prep kitchen has been shut down and the plumbing shut off. He said he has received a plumbing permit to remove the illegal plumbing and is preparing to make an application to the zoning board of appeals to amend the restaurant’s special permit to allow him to convert the space back to a prep kitchen.
He said the additional prep space is needed for cleaning and preparing local vegetables, fish and meat which require more space than prepared foods. “The reason we are using this space, and I can see that we are in violation, was that the kitchen can not adequately handle breakfast, lunch and dinner. And we are very sorry.”
Mr. Kenworth said the restaurant intends to continue to buy as much local food as they can but may have to cut back due to the lack of space. He said that they have stopped serving breakfast and lunch and hope they can continue to serve Sunday brunch.
“This has caused us a lot of discomfort. This is a classic case of begging forgiveness rather than asking permission,” said Mr. Knabel.
The building department received permission from the selectmen for access to counsel with regard to the State Road issue.
The restaurant was built on the location of a former restaurant on a pre-existing nonconforming lot, and zoning board approval is required to make any changes to the building or its use.
Backed by a slate of investors, Jackson Kenworth and his wife, Mary, opened the restaurant in 2009 on the site of the former Deon’s Restaurant, which had been destroyed in a fire. The former owners of the Sweet Life Café and Slice of Life restaurants in Oak Bluffs, the Kenworths’ newest venture quickly gained a loyal following and attracted scores of celebrity diners, including Barack and Michelle Obama.
Mr. Kenworth could not be reached for comment.