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Activists: Grading System Hurts Minority Restaurant Owners

Restaurateur: People Think Eateries With Less Than A Grade Are 'Nasty'
A restaurant grade is seen at an establishment in Chelsea - New York, NY - Jan 19, 2011 (credit: Paul Murnane / WCBS 880)

A restaurant grade is seen at an establishment in Chelsea. (file/credit: Paul Murnane/WCBS 880)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Community activists and restaurant owners protested Saturday, claiming that black and Hispanic restaurateurs are being unfairly targeted by the city Department of Health.

As 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reported, for restaurant owners such as Mike Richardson, it is all about making the grade. He is the owner of Brooklyn So-Co, at 1543 Broadway in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

“People don’t want to visit the establishment, because they feel it’s nasty” if an owner does not get an A grade, he said.

Richardson said city health inspectors have slapped him with thousands of dollars in fines and forced him to shut down, for minor infractions such as a single fly buzzing around and dish soap placed near a sealed box of cookies.

“If the restaurant is nasty, it should be shut down,” he said. “But as you can see, we’re very clean.”

Community activist Tony Herbert said Richardson is not alone.

“These are minority business owners that are getting excessive fines over here, and that’s not fair,” he said.

Restaurant owners have been complaining about the city’s letter-grade inspection system for all of the three years since it began. In those three years, the amount of fines paid by restaurants has skyrocketed — from about $30 million a year to $50 million.

City Councilmembers said the system is choking small business owners, and ripe for reform.

They have crafted a menu of proposed changes, including:

• Helping restaurants by reducing fines 15 percent;

• Eliminating fines for restaurants that successfully appeal a bad inspection and win an A grade;

• Establishing an office in the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to hear complaints from the industry.

There was no immediate response about the protest Saturday from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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