Healthy skepticism – Restaurants question scores

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt August 14, 2014
A health inspection form. Photo obtained via:

A health inspection form. Photo obtained via:

Three local restaurants that received lousy scores from the Health Department say the health department’s inspection process needs to be re-inspected.

The restaurateurs say they have always taken food safety seriously.

The Health Department says nothing about its process has changed and that its inspectors are following the same health codes that have been in place for years.

These aren’t just any restaurants, mind. They’re local destinations that frequently make “Best Of” lists.

Brick Store, Cakes & Ale and Pallookaville all recently received embarrassing scores. Brick Store received a 59, but immediately corrected the violations and received a 96. Avondale Estates’ Pallookaville got a score of 73, and Decatur’s Cakes & Ale Restaurant scored a 79.

To see the Pallokaville inspection report, click here.

To see the Cakes & Ale inspection report, click here.

To see the Brick Store Pub’s re-inspection report, click here.

After Brick Store received its initial score of 59, the owners said “the restaurant sanitation grading system is seriously flawed, and we disagree with several key interpretations of the code that led to this grade.”

Other restaurant owners agreed and said the health department has come down hard on them lately.

“Do I think things have changed for established restaurateurs and restaurants and establishments? Yes, I do,” Pallookaville owner Jim Stacy told Decaturish. “Do I think it’s correct? It’s not really my call. I’m waiting on (the inspector) to return because there were some specific issues that I think were incorrect, and some things that we had to correct that I think were unnecessary, but we did anyway to satisfy the four hour inspection we were put through. I think that an inspection of that length and detail is going to turn up things that normally would never be an issue. That’s kind of my take on it.”

Many of Pallookaville’s violations were corrected onsite, like the garden hose connected to the food prep sinks. The inspector said it needed to be of food grade material. The inspector also said, there was “No hand washing sink available in upstairs food prep and food storage area.”

“We are now the proud owners of three hand sinks within 10 feet of each other,” Stacy said.

Billy Allin, owner of Cakes & Ale, said the Health Department dinged him for things that didn’t attract notice during last year’s inspection, when the restaurant received a 90.

On his recent health inspection, the inspector observed fruit flies behind the dessert bar. Allin said he works to control pests. He said it’s virtually impossible to eliminate all fruit flies, particularly when farmers regularly bring in fresh produce.

“I’ve not been in a restaurant that doesn’t have a few fruit flies,” Allin said. “We try our best to eradicate them and keep it limited. We clean the drains, pour a light bleach solution down them and cover them with plastic. We cover them every day. As someone comes in the front door, (fruit flies are) going to come in with them.”

Allin said he was warned about using linens – like the ones used as napkins – to absorb the moisture that gathers on vegetables in the bins. Allin said the restaurant always uses new linens and they are not mingled with the ones that customers use to wipe their faces and hands. The health inspector recommended Cakes & Ale use cheesecloth instead, he said.

“It’s very expensive per foot,” Allin said. “I’m not going to cut cheesecloth to put on top of every vegetable. That’s going to put me out of business.”

Health Department spokesperson Vickie Elisa said that the same health regulations have been in place since 2008. She asked whether anything within the restaurants had changed.

“You should be able to pull up (their older scores) to look at any kind of trending data to support what they’re saying,” she said.

Pallookaville is new, and only has one prior health inspection. The restaurant received a 99.

Here are the prior scores for Brick Store and Cakes & Ale.

Brick Store

Date: 07/24/2014             Score: 96

Date: 07/14/2014             Score: 59

Date: 08/06/2013             Score: 81

Date: 03/27/2013             Score: 85

Date: 11/30/2012             Score: 91

Date: 10/16/2012             Score: 73

Date: 05/04/2012             Score: 83

Cakes & Ale

Date: 08/13/2014             Score: 79

Date: 08/08/2013             Score: 90

Date: 01/23/2013             Score: 86

Date: 06/15/2012             Score: 90

Date: 10/04/2011             Score: 93

“Uniformly all of our inspectors go by what is the established code,” Elisa said.

Stacy and Allin said they are working hard to ensure that they don’t stumble on future inspections.

“I will say that I think there’s a disconnect between what they’re looking for that could cause food borne illness or problems and what actually does,” Allin said.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • Michele

    interesting article. and the rumor mill had already piqued my interest all the way up in the mountains and retired—that’s bad for business. and yes, it is a little random when one quarterly report and inspector may have a totally different take than another and when they come up with “new” code, it’s impossible to know before hand, they don’t send out any updates or educate the restaurateurs before hand. That is typical govt oversight and inefficiency. I had 2 restos in Decatur for 10 yrs (supper club and billy goat’s cantina) and we routinely got slapped with points off for having our water bottles refilled in the produce sink. Servers leaving their coffee cups on the bread table. Silly stuff. Not gonna make anyone sick. I just took the hit, but we never received lower than a 94 in ten years, so 59, 73 what’s up? I’m gonna call fowl on the hose in the sink, not sure what that’s about. is there maybe a better place? a mop sink (required) perhaps? and a million hand wash sinks, yes, it’s ridiculous but it’s the cost of doing business. Does it solve cleanliness issues? No. You still can’t guarantee a staff member will always wash their hands, I don’t care if you have 20 sinks. I can’t be sure what’s going on at The Brick, they certainly know better but maybe stretched a little thin with multiple stores some ball dropping going on to the delegated managers. It happens.@The Cakes guy…I’m pretty sure you don’t have to wrap your veg with cheesecloth. Never even heard of that. And too expensive? Walmart has food grade cheesecloth for $8 for 6 yards, but “cheese” cloth is not necessary any chef will tell you that…you could use paper towels and those can be had from Sysco for about 2 cents each. If your produce is freshly delivered, there shouldn’t be that much veg wrapping anyway, and I do think guest napkins are not the best option. even a fresh/new bar towel would be a better choice. Keeping that stuff separate to avoid accidental cross contamination is the idea.( is this a clean napkin? uh, yea, I think so) And we’ve all had fruit flies if we’ve owned/worked in a bar. And they are attracted to fermenting fruit, very ripe, ready to go veg—they don’t just come through the door when someone opens it. They breed in the fermented stuff. yes, they are notoriously hard to get rid of, but bleach is an old wives tale. Try setting out some apple cider vinegar in bowls. No one will get sick, the flies can’t resist it and they get drunk and die. Also a pitcher plant or venus flytrap or other carnivorous plant helps and it’s a conversation starter. And will fruit flies hurt anyone? Not probably. But it freaks people out to see a “bug” in their drink. Which is also silly. But you’re feeding the public, it’s kind of a big responsibility. But we’re not doctors and a lot of times we’re treated like we should be, especially with food “allergies” and food borne illness scares. But, in my experience it’s best not to pick bones and make excuses with inspectors. Just find out the code, fix the issues, call them back, get the reinspect and get back to your very busy stressful jobs. But it should come as no surprise that the gig is full of regulation and death by paper cut. But it also is what allows you to sell $12 milkshakes and $15 beers. Carry on.

  • Jim Stacy

    Let’s be clear, the garden hose above the food prep sink never was used for any purpose but washing vegetables on a dedicated sink, on a dedicated hose holder. The inspector had no problem with said hose material during the opening inspection.

    We also were cited for temperature holding issues that were not out of standard code, as the items had not been out long enough to have been out of compliance. Some foods have to be held at unsafe temps for two hours to be out of line. Our inspection took place when we opened. It is physically impossible for those items to have timed out.

    Our inspector also cited us for dishwasher sanitizer problems. Both choline and ammonia test strips are attached to the wall in our dish room. We use an ammonia sanitizer. The inspector checked with a chorine kit. That is not the right test. We are required to have both testing strips and DO.

    We were cited for not having a hand sink that both the county, City of Avondale and previous inspectors determined was not necessary. When I say we have 3 sinks within 10 feet of each other, I am not exaggerating.

    I understand the importance of food safety and inspections. We take the matter seriously or we would not have a educational program set up in which Pallookaville pays for half of the tuition of ANY employee to become Serve Safe certified. This is above and beyond any County standards. Currently we have 5 people of staff certified.

    While I do not agree with some of the inspector’s findings, she was professional and prompt. I think you’ll find our day to day operations are diligent and complete and in no way reflected in what resulted after a multi hour inspection during peak service.

    While Michelle below may have experience in DeKalb County some years ago, this is a new development. I’d love to sell a $12 milkshake. As it stands a 20oz hand-dipped, hand-spun, locally produced, clover fed dairy milkshake at Pallookaville is $5.

    Jim Stacy

    • Jim Stacy

      Brick Store does NOT have a 59 health score. They currently have a 96. The re-inspection story isn’t as sexy as the initial inspection. It is called an “inspection process” for a reason.

    • underscorex

      FYI, Jim – We ate at Pallookaville last Saturday. I took one look at the health department score and shrugged. Y’all are great, it was delicious, nobody died.

      • Jim Stacy

        Thanks. We strive to not kill people. Still waiting on re-inspection so our sinks can count correctly.

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