By Lauren DiSpirito and Mark Ackerman

DENVER (CBS4) – For 14 months Teri Font served up chickpea fried steak and other vegan comfort foods at the Handy Diner in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. Business was growing and the Handy Diner was starting to get noticed.

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“Since I was 12 it was my dream to open up a diner,” said Font. “We were doing pretty well financially and we were receiving a lot of praise.”

But there was one thing Font was missing: a restaurant license.

Last week, a Denver health inspector paid a visit to the corner market at 30th Avenue and Downing Street and noticed a sign for the Handy Diner on the adjoining property.

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The inspector said, “Oh my gosh, there is a restaurant next door. I need to get in there,” according to Abby Davidson who manages food safety inspections.

The Handy Diner was inspected the next day and was shut down for “critical violations,” including the lack of handwashing sink and lack of a retail food license.

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“Food regulations require that there be a dedicated sink for handwashing,” according to Danica Lee, director of the Public Health Inspections Division for Denver’s Department of Environmental Health and Environment. “When you do things where you are washing hands in the same sink where you handle raw meat for example, that can pose problems.”

Lee says it also violates regulations to have employees use a bathroom sink for handwashing, as an inspection report noted was the case at Handy Diner.

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Font says she “doesn’t buy” that a health department inspector stumbled upon her restaurant. Handy Diner was written up in Denver publications in 2016, including Westword and 5280, shortly after opening. But it wasn’t until after an article was published by Westword on Feb. 28 — which revealed Font had begun hosting concerts for DIY artists affected by a wave of recent fire code inspections — that health inspectors showed up at her door.

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“As soon as the Westword article appeared about us, we were shut down two days later,” Font said.

Lee says she is not aware of anyone in her office having seen the article.

Font received a general violations summons and must appear in court in May. She faces possible fines of up to $2,000. To reopen, Font would have to obtain a business license and all required health, fire and building code changes. She says since being shut down, her business lost too much money to afford upgrading the restaurant.

“I understand why we got shut down,” Font said. “I just think it’s unfortunate we didn’t have a chance to correct it.”

Dan Rowland with Denver License and Excise says an unlicensed restaurant in Denver is rare.

“We rarely see that with brick and mortar restaurants because they have to get so many inspections,” he said.

Lauren DiSpirito reports for CBS4 News at 10 p.m. She covers breaking news and feature stories along Colorado’s Front Range. Follow her on Twitter @CBS4Lauren. Share your story ideas with her here.

Mark Ackerman is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. Follow him on Twitter @ackermanmark

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