Some Restaurant Owners Claim City Is Gouging With Fines
DENVER (CBS4) – The city of Denver says its goal is to keep people safe when they eat out, but not all restaurants are happy with changes in how safety inspections are now being done.
The staff at Racine’s in Denver is doing more than just serving up a delicious meal. They’re working to keep customers safe from foodborne illnesses and avoiding fines from the city’s Department of Environmental Health.
“We go over everything with our managers and our chefs. We try to keep educating our staff all the time,” Racine’s owner Lee Goodfriend said.
Recently, restaurants like Racine’s are only given one warning about a critical violation on their health inspection. The second time the restaurant will have to pay up.
“It can end up being a significant amount of money for a small operation,” department manager Doug Linkhart said.
Linkhart says the second time a restaurant receives a critical violation it can be fined $250 per violation up to $500. The third time is $500 up to $1,000. Linkhart insists it’s not about the city making money.
“We and they both have the same goal — that their customers are safe. We’re both interested in food safety,” Linkhart said.
“I believe that’s a lie,” restaurant owner Frank Bonanno said.
Bonanno owns Bones and seven other restaurants in the city. He fights every fine his restaurants receive.
“They’re hurting small businesses that can’t afford this. We’re in a downed economy,” he said.
In fact, in just 2010, before the new fine system, environmental health collected about $119,000 in fines from restaurants for critical violations. In 2011, after the new policy, the department collected nearly $732,000 in fines.
“If you don’t think that is some play to get money by Denver Health, I think it’s laughable,” Bonanno said.
Laughable or not, restaurant critical violations are down about 40 percent.
The number of foodborne illness complaints stayed about the same despite the new policy change and the huge increase in fines collected. There were 112 complaints in 2010 and 128 in 2011.
Go to the Denver Department of Environmental Health website to see the health inspections for all restaurants in Denver. They can see any critical or non-critical violations the restaurant got over the past few years.