Oak Bluffs health officials delay on restaurant violations

Fat Ronnie's Burger Bar, 7 Circuit Avenue, Oak Bluffs.
Photo by Steve Myrick

Fat Ronnie's Burger Bar, 7 Circuit Avenue, Oak Bluffs.

Updated 2:10 pm Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Oak Bluffs health agent Shirley Fauteux and food inspector Ron Tolin said they were only doing their jobs to protect residents and visitors. Reynaldo Faust, owner of Fat Ronnie’s Burger Bar on Circuit Avenue, said the pair engaged in a pattern of harassment over the summer, marked by overzealous enforcement of the rules.

The long-simmering tension between Ms. Fauteux, Mr. Tolin, and Mr. Faust came to a boil at an Oak Bluffs board of health (BOH) meeting on September 3 when the health officials asked the board to shut the restaurant down until all the violations were fixed.

After a heated session, with accusations of duplicity flying from both sides, the board of health ruled that Mr. Faust could remain open, pending a subsequent inspection on September 4.

In a letter to Ms. Fauteux emailed that evening, Mr. Tolin resigned from the job he had held for five years.

“Today’s action or inaction by the board is shocking,” Mr. Tolin said. “To allow a restaurant with eight or more critical violations to remain open even for one day is shameful and I do not want to be associated with a foodborne [sic] illness or outbreak.”

Unreasonable

In a telephone interview with the Times, Mr. Faust said that the August 29 inspection was only the latest example of how Ms. Fauteux and Mr. Tolin targeted him with unreasonable demands and frequent unannounced inspections.

“It started when I was in the construction process,” Mr. Faust said. “I was told to get an $8,000 dishwasher and to add a vegetable sink. I was told the reason was due to ‘change in use.’ This has been a burger place since I was a kid. How did the place do it last year, and the years before that without an extra sink?”

Mr. Faust said he had been the focus of undue attention. “Since I opened I’ve had nine surprise inspections,” he said. “Usually there’s one surprise inspection and one that’s not.”

Ms. Fauteux said Mr. Faust is incorrect. “We made three unannounced inspections,” she said in an interview at town hall on Friday, September 6. “Two of them were due to complaints. An abutter complained of improper disposal of gray water and a former employee gave us a long list of infractions.”

Health department records show that Fat Ronnie’s had no violations on a June 24 inspection, four violations on a July 15 inspection, and eight violations on an August 29 inspection. Mr. Faust refused to sign the reports for the July 15 and August 29 inspections.

Family business

Mr. Faust took particular umbrage at the note on the August 29 report that he was violating child labor laws by employing his daughter Reyna, 10, to work in the front of the restaurant.

“This is where it gets malicious,” he said. “My ten-year-old daughter works here. She loves it. Ask anyone who my best employee is, she’s great, she does it all, except the cooking. Shirley [Ms. Fauteux] threatened to call child protective services on me. She’s my daughter. She has a right to be there. The board didn’t have a problem with it. Shirley’s been here a long time, she’s seen the Giordano kids, the Wallace kids, grow up in their parents’ business. And she comes after my child?”

“Children are allowed to work in their parents’ business,” said Ms. Fauteux. “But the law says they can’t be under 14. She’s a ten-year-old girl.”

“The age of workers is not a board of health issue,” said Edgartown health agent Matt Poole in a telephone call with the Times. “We don’t ask for any kind of credentialing. We might get involved in OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) issues if an unsafe situation is also an unsanitary situation. But in 15 years of doing this, and talking to other people who do this, I’ve never heard of a health agent dealing with underage workers. I think families probably have an exemption, but again, it’s not our jurisdiction.”

Infractions

Code violations listed by Mr. Tolin on the August 29 report are: a missing screen in the kitchen, food in the hand washing sink, improper mop storage, a faulty front step, food kept above regulation temperatures, evidence of pests leading to the basement, disconnected smoke alarm, and grease, water and food under appliances.

Mr. Faust said that most of the infractions were so minimal, he could remedy them “in ten minutes.” Regarding the citation for the front step, Mr. Faust said, “They were giving me terms that I could not comply to. You can’t do construction downtown between June 15 and September 15. And it’s impossible to find someone to do it. And the step wasn’t a problem. Nobody tripped this summer, no one complained. It’s been that way since 1939. It was just another technicality. As soon as you think one is resolved, there’s another one.”

At some point between the September 3 BOH meeting and the next day’s inspection, Mr. Faust fixed the step to Ms. Fauteux’s satisfaction, without the assistance of a contractor.

Accusations fly

Mr. Faust also complained about the comportment of Mr. Tolin and Ms. Fauteux on their August 29 inspection. “They snuck in the back door at the height of the lunch rush,” he said. “They said they had a complaint, but they couldn’t tell me what it was or who made the complaint.”

Mr. Faust said that Mr. Tolin took the temperatures of hamburgers and shouted, “They’re in the danger zone,” to Ms. Fauteux, at a volume audible to his customers. “He just stuck his thermometer in for two seconds; there’s no way he could have had an accurate reading,” said Mr. Faust.

Monday morning, when Mr. Tolin stopped by town hall to turn in his work attire, he demonstrated his thermometer, a Thermapen by Thermoworks, to a Times reporter. Using an ice pack and a sandwich, he got temperature readings on both in under five seconds.

“I would never shout across a crowded restaurant,” Mr. Tolin said. “I’m a professional. Ask anyone.”

Inspection grade

On Wednesday, September 4, Ms. Fauteux and BOH chairman Patricia Bergeron conducted another inspection. In her inspection notes, Ms. Fauteux highlighted the amount of grease still present under the deep fryer and grill. “I can’t OK to remain open,” she wrote.

However, Ms. Bergeron said the conditions noted were not enough to force the restaurant to close, Ms. Fauteux told The Times. Fat Ronnie’s Burger Bar remained open. Another inspection was scheduled for September 11.

The restaurant passed that inspection, town administrator Robert Whritenour told The Times late Wednesday.

Ms. Bergeron did not return calls from the Times seeking comment.

Mr. Tolin may have had a critic in Mr. Faust but he also had supporters. Marc Hanover, proprietor of Circuit Avenue mainstay Linda Jean’s restaurant, had high praise for Mr. Tolin. “I’ve worked with Ron since he’s been there,” he said. “He’s done a good job. He’s always been extremely fair. I’ve talked to other restaurateurs as well. I know a lot of them agree.”

Regarding Mr. Tolin’s resignation, Mr. Hanover said, “It’s unfortunate. I think it’s a loss for the town.”

This article was updated to reflect that the restaurant passed a pre-announced September 11 inspection.



Comments

  1. Claude Shirl says:

    Yikes. I had wanted to try this place out. Think I’ll pass….

  2. $$ says:

    I HAVE BEEN TRYIING TO TELL EVERYBODY NOT TO EAT HERE I GOT SICK AND ALMOST CALLED 911 I KNEW IT

  3. James Alexander says:

    Damn…and to think I was taking my family here for a quick bite to eat while out late…Don’t think so! What is the point of having an Inspector if the Board refuses to act on his report of multiple violations?

  4. Patches says:

    Who does he know on the board of health. What a disgrace.

  5. Jeff says:

    Why can’t we have Health Inspection letter grade ratings A, B, C etc. required to be in the window like California does? That will provide a real incentive for owners to actually put some effort into a clean establishment as they watch patrons continually walk past everyday for any grade other than A.

  6. 7bus says:

    Faust? His name is Faust?

  7. Marie says:

    Never ate there, never will now. Are they trying to keep him open for Tivoli day? Doors should be closed. It’s all in who you know, but that’s the norm for this town.

  8. Not_The_Same_MV says:

    With any luck the Health Agent will resign too but unfortunately hitting the lottery is more likely

    1. plain_as_the_nose_on_ur_face says:

      that would be too good to be true! would save her a commute to boot. Hire someone who lives here full-time and cares and is accountable for the job needed in the best interest in the health of all citizens of MV.

  9. DisappointedinOB says:

    The BOH office in Oak Bluffs is not an easy office to get along with. They make it prohibitive to serve and prepare food in Oak Bluffs. It’s hard to follow the rules when the rules aren’t clear and seem to change all the time. It would seem they don’t want anyone to prepare or serve food at all.

    1. howaboutthisone says:

      I agree – OB is one of the hardest towns to deal with code wise, and I think that’s been made clear not only with food, but with buildings, permits, everything. I think Mr. Faust is complaining like someone who is guilty by saying that they were “singling him out” (right, when the Island House is right next door) but it’s obvious this guy is doing shady things. Storing food at warm temps? Dear God. You might as well be storing them on the ground.

      1. John says:

        Well, you have to deal with a very aggressive health agent who is in your face all the time, if there is violations, by all means shut the food establishments down and get them to rectify their violations before letting them reopen.

  10. tiskid says:

    He calls the BOH liars, but apparently someone felt strongly enough about this to resign. I’ve never seen anything like that before. Almost nothing anyway. I fully support unannounced inspections. I would go so far as to support many. If you have nothing to hide then there you go. I don’t really care if he had daily unannounced inspections. People don’t single out perfectly clean places. Weighing off the possibility of someone dying from bad food vs the convenience of unannounced inspections? If it’s so confusing ask questions. Write letters. Go to meetings. Hire a lawyer to cry for you. But there is no way on Earth I can go to eat there now. 8 violations? I don’t care why on Earth there was an inspection. I can’t eat at a place with 8 violations. Not happening. You eat at a place with 8 violations.

    1. plain_as_the_nose_on_ur_face says:

      Ron Tolin is one of the most respectable people I know and would always carry himself in the most respectable and professional manner possible. For him to resign, he clearly thinks the items in his report were quite serious health issues! To ignore his report and let the place stay open? whoever allowed that should be fired for neglect of duty IMMEDIATELY no matter who it is, they are putting the health of the public at risk and do not even seem to care. OB can hire someone better than that I would hope!

  11. mary says:

    I’m not sure what to think. I ate there in August, the food was really good and no one got sick…

  12. Steve Jenkinson says:

    Okay, let me get this straight. Shirley shut down the Thai restaraunt several years ago in the middle of a lunch service because of a Serve Safe certification violation (which was due to Oak Bluffs having a different policy than the state), but, she leaves a place to serve food to the public that has clear dangers to their health. Great work Town of Oak Bluffs, great work. I wonder what the town’s liability would be for a food poisoning outbreak that occurs in a establishment they know is rolling the dice with our lives?

    1. PlainFolks says:

      In the article it says she noted “that she could not recommend the restaurant be allowed to remain open, because she observed continued violations.” Sounds like she agreed with Mr. Tolin, but the BOH is not backing up either of them.

    2. jonathan larche says:

      Steve, we are talking about town officials of Oak Bluffs. That defines Bizarro, where good is bad, and bad is good.

  13. ScottR13 says:

    The Board of Health has rolled the dice with the public’s health and allowed a restaurant to remain open with SERIOUS violations.They ought to quit. Where is Farmer5 on THIS issue???

    1. John says:

      The health agent has the authority to order a food establishment to close immediately upon discovering serious and repeated violations of the state’s health regulations . The health agent does not have to bring the board of health into the immediate of the inspection. This health agent has temporarily shut down food establishments the last 22 years.

    2. savoy6 says:

      I smell something fishy, and I don’t think it’s coming from Fat Ronnie’s.

      1. Kimberly Young says:

        Her reason for not recommending it to remain open was for grease. It’s a burger joint for crying out loud! There is supposed to be grease! I’m with savoy6, something’s fishy. People commented on Tolin’s character. I think he resigned before the grease hit the fan. Ronnie’s is very successful. I am questioning the frequent visits and the validity of the claims. A former employee made complaints. Did they ever mention who (disgruntled) this employee was or identify the complaints. No other restaurant has been that successful in that location since Mr. C’s. ofcourse the Owner of Linda Jeans is going to praise Mr. Tolin. He wants to have the only line on Circuit Ave

    3. mvcatz says:

      Yes, the silence from a particular poster is deafening. His outrage a couple of weeks ago, reserved solely for a certain West Tis restaurant, (where there was no danger to the public health) makes that whole bout look something else was driving the outrage.

  14. strikesagain says:

    Oak bluff has a long history of a zero tolerance policy… As in zero tolerance for any real enforcement! It’s rampant from the police department all the way through the town hall to the selectmen and town administrator. It’s a virtual free for all in the town!

  15. dr spaghetti says:

    Maybe they do not want another shuttered business on Circuit ave since OB has been looking pretty shabby this past summer. The main disgrace being what the owners have let happen to the theaters.

    1. Patches says:

      And stores with the goods hanging out on the street. Real honky tonk.

  16. DavidBee says:

    Nasty..There is no excuse for these types of violations to take place. Poor management and a basic lack of concern for the quality of food they serve. A food business on the island can’t last on one time customers only and negative publicity like this will be a nail in the coffin. I am sure every eatery in OB has had some type of violation but is fighting with the inspectors instead of working with them worth the loss in business? If you know your business is under scrutiny why not keep on top of everything unless you just do care about what you serve.

  17. savoy6 says:

    The question is whether or not these “violations” were legit or it was something personal. Far be it for OB town employees to ever overstep..

    1. ScottR13 says:

      I wouldn’t think someone would resign their position over trumped up charges and secondly if the food was stored at dangerously high temperatures that is a GENUINE health concern.

  18. mvcatz says:

    State Road, an immaculately clean and great place to dine, is fined and has to close for breakfast and lunch over a permit, and this place is open?

    1. ScottR13 says:

      Thank you very much!! And where are all those critics? Farmer5?
      NO credibility and hidden behind the veil of anonymity.

      1. farmer5 says:

        Oh, give it a break guys and gals, I’ve been busy trying to earn a living and hadn’t read the papers in a few days.
        As far as the mess in OB is concerned this is no small matter. The protection of the public health isn’t something to be trifled with. For the health agent to resign because his board didn’t support him is notable. Even after Shirley Fauteaux recommended action none was taken. I think this exposes the town to a greater degree of liability in the event of a food borne outbreak.
        Many of the violations that a restaurant owner can be cited for are not things that would require an establishment to be shut down and the owner has a reasonable period of time to bring his business into compliance. That said, it appears that the nature of Fat Ronnie’s violations are more serious and need immediate attention. The town should have acted swiftly and unanimously in my opinion.
        As far as my credibility is concerned please feel free to ignore my posts, Scott.

        1. ScottR13 says:

          Good one! LOL So, since we are so informal, what is YOUR name? Doesn’t it make you feel good that your absence was noted?

  19. Krystal Rose says:

    I have eaten at Fat Ronnie’s twice. The first time was alright, the Second time… I threw my burger out. It might as well have been moo-ing at me, it was so raw. Now i read this? Talk about disgusting, and disgraceful. I will NEVER eat from there again. Not to mention a 10 yr old was working the counter, & it took about 5 minutes to order, not receive, but ORDER one burger.

  20. RedSoxPatriotsCelticsBruinsFan says:

    Undercooked hamburgers? Sounds like a problem with employee training.

    1. 777s says:

      Some of us like medium rare!

      1. Christine Powers says:

        Or moodium rawr . . .

  21. Adult_Content says:

    How can one be over-zealous on enforcing health rules in restaurants?

  22. RobOnMV says:

    Has to be one of the best burgers I’ve had in along time. I hope he’s learned a lesson, and the next unscheduled inspections yield no surprises for anyone.

  23. Not_The_Same_MV says:

    If you read the Annual Town Reports you would have noticed that each Health Department lists all the things they do and permits they issue etc. Edgartown and Tisbury Health agents always list under 50 complaints, but not the Oak Bluffs Health Agent. it’s always in the many 100′s. This is what is fishy not only about this situation but of the Health agent too.

  24. Haveagreatday! says:

    This observation and theory is based on dealing with Shirley for many, many years.

    For the most part Ron has been a very nice, very competent and very reasonable health agent. Ron would, however, follow the marching orders that Shirley lays out for him, which includes specifying certain establishments who are unfortunate enough to draw her ire, usually for challenging a requirement she attempts to impose on them, requirements that often do not meet state health code, have been completely fabricated by Shirley and have not been enforced and are not currently being enforced on other restaurants in town. Often the things she demands are completely unreasonable and unnecessary or even impossible for restaurants with limited space or funds. These establishments will be visited over and over again. Most are “unofficial” visits and not recorded as an inspection-unless they find something they can spin into a violation. The reason they take this tack is to keep any evidence of harassment from being recorded–as in this case Mr. Faust points out they visited him 8-9 times but Shirley claims they only made 3 visits.
    I have personally witnessed this drama play out with multiple establishments, the main reason all who deal with Shirley walk on pins and needles with each and every interaction.