WAPAKONETA – The Wooden Shoe Inn in Minster has a probationary 30 days to correct long-term health code violations or face either suspension or possible revocation of their food license, according to the Auglaize County Board of Health. the board discussed the situation during its meeting Tuesday in Wapakoneta.
During that 30-day period, the restaurant owners are to assemble a handbook on proper employee procedures for food handling, show significant improvement in cleanliness and food safety, and provide written goals to continue improvement.
Curt Anderson, director of Environmental Health, initially said he was in favor of a food license suspension of up to 90 days because of a history on non-compliance. He said the latest round started when Anderson sent a letter in 2016 complaining of problems in 2014 and 2015.
He provided the board with copies of the letters and last two month’s inspection reports sent to owners Fred Meyer and John Hobbler. The information cited an average of six major violations and 19 minor violations of health codes,.
After lengthy discussion, the board voted 3-2 to allow 30 days for the owners to show marked improvement in the food operations. Kim Prueter and Dan Harpster voted no on the issue. A preliminary inspection will happen in the next two or three days, said Anderson, with another one right before the June 11 Board meeting.
Meyer and Hobbler, who attended the meeting, said they had vastly improved sanitary conditions since their last inspection in January. However, Anderson disagreed with that statement, saying that there was no substantial improvement between the January and April reports. Anderson added that the last straw for him was the inspection report finding cigarette butts on the floor in the kitchen.
Anderson said these multiple violations were the reason why the owners were required to attend a January 2019 administrative meeting to address the problems and why they were facing loss of their food license now.
Both owners told the board that should the Wooden Shoe lost its food license, even for only 30 days, they would have to shut down the business for good.
“We have gotten our wake up call,” said both Hobbler and Meyer, and asked for time to correct the problems.
“May is one of our busy months and we can’t afford to lose the income (if their license would be suspended),” Hobbler said. He also said the reason why he had not dealt with the multiple minor violations was because he had been focusing on the major violations first. The major food violations have the potential for food poisoning and included leaving barbecue sauce at room temperature, red potatoes left overnight in an unheated steam table, a non-functioning cooler in which ice was being used to keep food cold, and lack of expiration date labels on food.
Hobbler said they have had trouble meeting health code standards because of short-staffing.
“We only have two full-time and one part-time employees,” he said, and that they had all fallen in the bad habit of not finishing up cleaning at night.
Meyer, who sold the building to Hobbler two years ago but kept an interest in the restaurant operation, admitted he had not “really been present” these last few months to deal with the mounting violations.
Many of the violations were for cleanliness, from removing mold from cooler walls to not cleaning kitchen equipment on a regular basis. The inspections reported over-turned garbage cans and dirty floors. Also cited in the inspections was a need to replace flooring behind the bar and the restrooms.
Hobbler said to remedy the cleanliness issue he hired a hired a man to work 25 to 30 hours per week just cleaning.
“But,” said Hobbler, “this is an old building, built in the 1930’s. The kitchen is all wood, the door to the cooler is wood.” The owners claimed many repairs would be expensive.
However, board member Kim Preuter questioned the owners’ commitment to improving the property. She pointed out some violations could be remedied cheaply, such as keeping bar rags in a bucket with disinfectant as required, rather than laying the rags on the counter.
Board member Dan Harpster said, “I don’t think you (Meyer and Hobbler) grasp the gravity of this. These problems did not happen overnight. Our job is make sure your establishment is safe for the public.”
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.