2012-02-24 / Top Stories

Grocery/Deli’s, Bodegas React To Grading Proposal

By Ana Solares

It seems as if Rockaway’s got it all – the beaches, the mild weather, and a bodega or grocery/deli squeezed into almost every corner. As of now, State Senator Tony Avella is working towards a new proposal that will have these grocery stores and bodegas inspected by the City’s health department, using the same letter grading system they apply to restaurants.

The opinions of grocery/deli and bodega operators, however, differ in respect to the effects a new system may bring.

Sanitary guidelines followed by the State department for supermarkets and grocery/ delis include proper hygienic treatment of meat grinders, meat and milk cases stored at an adequately cool temperature, and the absence of vermin. Such regulations are to be replaced by the City guidelines if Avella’s proposal is accepted. Many grocery/delis routinely cook and serve hot food, much like restaurants, but since they are under the purview of the state they are not letter graded like a restaurant is.

For Alex Miranda, the owner of Garden’s Best Grocery and Deli, at186 Beach 116 Street, if the grading system is replaced, the city will have the chance to exercise greater control.

“It’s good what they’re doing. [Under city inspection] there’s a greater supervision over the rights of the workers,” he said, speaking in Spanish. “Just as the employee, the employer should be watched over as well.”

Joseph Bae, the manager of the Bon Appetit Deli on 418 Beach 129 Street, however, leans more towards the state department’s inspections. His deli serves a full line of freshly cooked and prepared meals, but isn’t letter graded by the city.

“There’s not a big difference [between the state and city departments] but personally, I like the state department,” he said. “They understand the situation better. The city doesn’t know; they just have a book. They say that the bread doesn’t go here, for example, it has to go in the freezer, when really it’s fine, and other minor things like that.”

Tom Murphy, the owner of Belle Harbor’s local meat market, Curran’s Superior Meats, is one that is concerned about the city’s potential expansion of power.

“I think the way it is now is fine.

If the city gets involved, one department will conflict with the other. I would leave it the way it is,” said Murphy.

“On the other hand, it’s good that everything is being checked and it keeps everyone on their toes, which is always good for the consumer.”

As for restaurant managers, Mike Adel and Yani Jimenez, now veterans of the letter grading system, feel the grocery/delis and bodegas will be exposed to the faults of the city grading system.

“It’s too much,” said Jimenez, who manages La Playa restaurant, at 8716 Rockaway Beach Boulevard. “The health department already attacks you for any little thing and the truth is you just can’t really work anymore. It’s a fear you get when those people stop by. Sometimes, you even want to close.

As a small business that we are, we already don’t make a lot of money, with the light bill and the insurances we have to pay. In my opinion, we small businesses will not exist anymore.”

Jimenez added that she was fined a total of $7,000 last year alone for sanitary violations.

Mike Adel, of the Fast Break Gourmet restaurant at 241 Beach 116 Street, commented on the need for the current grading system to be “fixed.”

“It’s not fair. If the temperature of the food is not right, they fine us and categorize it as a critical violation. But if they don’t find anything, and say there’s a light that’s not covered or the door doesn’t close right, they should give us a chance to fix it, and if it’s not fixed when they come back again, then they should give the violation.

What they’ve come up with is a great idea, it protects the public, but the way they practice it isn’t right.

The bottom line is the A, B, C’s should be given on the critical violations of food, not on the technical things,” he said.

“I’m worried that an inspector is not going to be in a good mood and then I have toholdaB,oraConmywindowforsixmonths.

If they give you a B, or a C, then people think there’s something wrong with the place, or that the food’s not good. It’s a very good idea, but it has to be corrected just a little bit,” he added.

For Sam Ahmad, who manages the Hammel Stop 1 Supermarket and has been in the grocery and deli business for 30 years, his business will always be prepared, should the senator’s plan be implemented.

“We keep it clean all the time, so it doesn’t matter who’s inspecting. A man came not too long ago, on January 9, and we passed,” said Ahmad. “We always pass the test, there’s no major problems.”

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