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.