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Kitchen Nightmare: Our Restaurant Was Shut Down (so let me share exactly what happened that day)

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Well, the worst-day in my professional life finally arrived. It’s Friday morning and the official notice says “Facility Temporarily Closed: Operations ordered stopped until violations are corrected.”

Within a two-hour routine (but surprise) visit, the Department of Health shut us down. There were 14 total violations, with 7 of them high-priority.

Last month was our tenth anniversary. We just finished some fun promotions and we had a good time celebrating with our longtime customers. We were filled with happiness. Not many businesses reach this important milestone.

How could this have ever happened to us?

This came as a complete shock to us all. There was never any suspicion things were really this bad. I mean, we were actually closed down! And I’ve seen plenty of other operations that should never-ever open their doors. Yet, we’re Closed.

How did we get to this point? This is the worst thing we could imagine. The reservation book is full for tonight. We have a follow-up inspection, but that isn’t until next week. We run a great place and never had a serious problem before.

This is what we could piece together about what happened:

  • The Chef was off Thursday. And late to work today (picking up a gourmet ingredient not available from our suppliers).

  • The day before, we were short-staff and had almost double our normal business.

  • The kitchen didn’t get cleaned/closed as well as we normally expect. General cleanliness was less than our optimal standards.

  • A huge delivery arrived this morning for the weekend. The driver was early and a dishwasher checked in the goods. The walk-in was locked and the goods were left on the dock until a cook arrived.

  • The prep work for today was not completed last night: so everyone was scrambling to get ready for lunch. Things were getting done piece-meal. We just were not quite set up and ready to start the day.

At that exact moment, the DOH Inspector arrives. They start the usual routine:

  • Is the PIC (person in charge) here?

  • Can I see a copy of your current license?

  • Do you have all your staff certifications available for verification?

From Bad to Worse

Well, I guess we were not off to a great start when the sous chef said the paperwork is locked in the office and the chef was in transit “maybe a half-hour away”.

The Inspector says “I can’t wait that long, let’s get started.” The startled sous-chef knows he has to get the restaurant ready. So he asks a part-time pantry employee, who started last month, to show the Inspector around until the chef arrives.

They strike up a casual conversation as the inspection begins. So now the weight of our entire existence is in many ways dependent on how this new pantry person responds. For some reason, this was our only inspection this year and we had been lulled into a state of complacency. I'm guilty, too.

Things didn’t go well. Not at all.

  • “Don’t you have gloves for the salad area?” Our cook responds, “Yeah, but only small ones. I can’t wear those. I’ve been asking for XL since I’ve been here.” (We learned they were on the back dock with the last delivery).

  • Sanitizer stations? “Oh yeah, we have those. But we haven’t set them up for the day yet.”

  • Hand-wash sinks? No paper towels, no soap. “Used it all last night. I guess the dishwasher forgot to refill them.”

  • An un-emptied garbage can, dragged in from the bar last night, had a cloud of fruit flies hovering. Right next to the prep-tables.

  • Turning on the lights in the storage room, four roaches scurried away from the dirty rags in the corner. Someone dropped a container of sauce when closing and swiped the mess to the side of the floor with used rags.

This Will Never Happen to You: Until it Does

It’s hard to say when they reached the final straw. It just wasn’t our day. The pantry cook answered question after question without any true knowledge about us. When shown a violation, it could have been fixed right then and there. No attempt was made.

  • “Tuna salad at 65 degrees?" We just made it. The mayo was just opened from the storage room, so now it's cooling.

  • “Reach-in at 55 degrees?" Oh yeah, we have a problem keeping this door shut. If someone slams it, it pops back open a crack. I guess that gasket is a problem.

  • “No ice scoop?” We usually use an empty plastic sour cream container.

  • "Can opener crusted with old food debris and rust?" Yeah, we need a new one.

  • “Why the turkey breast in the pot-sink?” Just thawing it out for lunch.

We were doomed. And that wasn’t the worst of it. By the time the chef arrived, the Inspector was already writing up the long report and calling the home office.

Chef tried to walk around and correct things, but it was too late. Case closed. Restaurant closed. The Inspector has many other facilities to visit today. Time expired.

We recovered. We re-opened. The chef is still with us. Same with the pantry-cook. The owner was incredibly disappointed. As the GM, I feel my position is now at-risk.

Why? Our shutdown made the newspaper and multiple websites about a week later. In boldface. Headlines in both print and online versions. Our restaurant was closed by the Health Department.

Every detail was in print for public scrutiny including the cockroach parade. We were lumped in with many others who we would never desire to be associated.

Anyone doing a search of our name would be able to find that – forever. No defenses, no excuses. Just the facts.

How do you calculate the cost of that? Ten years of building a good business was shattered (and shuttered) in two hours.

Whose fault is this? No doubt it's me. But it's more than that.

It’s the entire inspection system. These stories have been long repeated – but strangely getting worse, not better. Never have we seen so many violations in the industry. Or, maybe finding them is just made easier through an online search or a blaring headline. With all the enforcement, you would think there would be a big shift in improvement over time.

The overriding factor is the lack of preparation and education regarding the inspection process. When you have only one or two inspections per year, the entire operation is unfamiliar and ill-equipped to be in the practice of full compliance. When the inspector shows, everyone just scrambles and prays.

Like I said before, there was complacency. We had the knowledge, but nobody expected that fateful DOH visit at our most vulnerable moment. That was not us, but we are now permanently labeled. Who knows the level of damage done.

This is when I learned about a new private inspection service. We have engaged HealthInspectorPro. The concept is simple and cost effective: get your operation conditioned to inspections. But without any risk.

It's a mock-drill, but under identical circumstances to the real thing. Our crew is on their toes and ready for a series of “unannounced” visits. Except there is no risk. No closings. No newspapers and internet. We just learn and adjust. Now, it's "normal" to have an inspection, not a complete shock.

Best of all, our owner arranged for the staff to be awarded bonuses for good outcomes.

What we used to dread, we now look forward to. It’s a fun competition. If one team-member messes up, they could all lose that extra bonus. So they help (and watch) one another all the time.

The result is that I’ve done everything possible behind the scenes to ensure our future compliance. But it doesn't work without these new private inspections. My efforts don’t really have any meaning without verifying them.

In essence, we now “Know our Score Before” it happens. Is it foolproof? No.

But we have established a baseline of performance and expectations which can now be independently measured.

We’d much rather know these potential outcomes in a simulation than a real-world disaster. And the staff is now happily engaged in the “game” of improving our sanitation practices.

It’s the best decision we ever made. And I know the owner is happy and impressed with my very smart and easy decision.

Want more info about this program? Visit and see if they can help you, too.

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