After repeated health closures, Philly restaurant is again open

This story has been updated.

In the past two weeks, Philadelphia inspectors ordered more than 20 restaurants to stop serving because they failed health inspections. For most, the closures were temporary.

Not so for Alma Mater, the East Mount Airy establishment that opened with great expectations one year ago. Filling the former NXNW with a school-themed restaurant, it also sported a 16-tap beer garden and a performance space.

Owners Jake Sudderth and Anne Rivers wanted to be part of this stretch of Germantown Avenue's revitalization.  Rivers said they poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into building renovations and new equipment.

But after a series of seven failed health inspections that resulted in three closure orders in September, Sudderth and Rivers  pulled the plug.

They didn’t have much of a choice. A Court of Common Pleas judge ordered on Alma Mater to stop serving on Sept. 15 for a minimum of 48 hours. When the restaurant got another order on Sept. 25, their landlord changed the locks. 

After it was cleared to reopen on Sept. 29, the landlord, David Fellner, resumed business the next day. Fellner said on Tuesday that he owns the liquor license, and under a complicated legal arrangement, had hired Sudderth and Rivers to serve as the restaurant's management company. 

"Under that arragement, I retain total control over the operations," he said. Fellner said he had not been alerted to Alma Mater's travails until the third closure order had been issued. "They never informed me," he said.

Sudderth disputed Fellner account. 

"His claim that he was unaware is false," Sudderth said. "We are just being pushed out and our assets are being held against our will."

Sudderth claims the restaurant was a victim of health department “harassment.” The closures shuttered Alma Mater for about two weeks, resulting in a loss of income and $2,400 in fines and fees.

A spokesman for the health department, Jeff Moran, said he could not comment extensively on the matter because the city is pursuing the case in court. A hearing for Alma Mater is scheduled for Nov. 22 in the Court of Common Pleas.

Not all restaurants get the intense scrutiny that Alma Mater received, Sudderth said. He pointed to a  competitor, the Personal Chef, a few blocks down Germantown Avenue which hasn’t been inspected since Oct. 2013, and published health department records bear that out.  Most eateries get an annual visit, but Moran said none of the local businesses have received any special treatment. He said his agency is rechecking its files on Personal Chef. 

Sudderth and Rivers also own Read & Eat in Roxborough, where they sell used books and serve coffee and pastries. It was shuttered  temporarily  for not having a certified food safety person on the premises in February, May and July. The inspector characterized the third offense as an "imminent health hazard."

Most of Alma Mater’s early health reviews turned up relatively minor offenses. But the last three proved fatal, including citations for mouse feces or flies. Though the health department routinely posts inspection reports online, several documents pertaining to the restaurant’s inspections and closure orders were not publicly available. 

The eateries listed below were inspected between Sept. 22 and  Oct. 2. Each inspection is generally regarded as a “snapshot in time,” and not necessarily a reflection of day-to-day conditions at the business. Most violations were addressed on site.

Included with each listing is an edited selection of infractions noted by health department sanitarians. Click on the restaurant’s name or date of inspection to see a detailed report.

If you suspect you've contracted food poisoning at a Philadelphia eatery or have a sanitation complaint, contact the health department at 215-685-7495.

To look up reports on a specific restaurant, or read more in the Inquirer’s Clean Plates series, visit Philly.com/cleanplates.

 

Dawn's Breakfast
7182 OGONTZ AVE 19138
9 violations, 4 serious.
Food safety certified person has expired certificate; no sign at sink reminding food employees to wash hands; uncovered fish and flour in refrigerator;  evidence of insect activity. Ordered to close for a minimum of 48 hours Oct. 2. 

 First England Pizza
7014 FRANKFORD AVE 19135
17 violations, 7 serious.
Mouse feces on floors; live flies near dough mixer; empty paper towel dispenser; open cans of mushrooms and olives not protected from contamination; handwash sink blocked by soiled items. Ordered to close for a minimum of 48 hours on Sept. 30. Permited to reopen Oct. 2.

Brothers Food Market
3516 GERMANTOWN AVE 19140
12 violations, 5 serious.
Mouse droppings observed on meat saw and retail shelving; accumulated food residue on slicer; expired food safety certificate; no soap at handwash sink; food debris on shelving. Agreed to temporarily close on Sept. 30.  

Veggie Trex Deli
127 N 15TH ST 19102
14 violations, 6 serious.
Operating without a valid food license; no hot water; food held at hazardous temperators; prepared foods not dated; thermometers not available; dead mouse and dead roaches on glue trap in basement; flies in kitchen. Agreed to temporarily close on Sept. 30. 

23 Mini Market
2240 DIAMOND ST 19121
24 violations, 11 serious.
Insufficient hot water; expired food safety certificate; employee refused to show food license; food employee did not was hands between changing tasks; employee on phone while prepping food; no soap or paper towels at restroom sink; food held at hazardous temperatures; inadequate refrigeration; dead roaches in ice cream freezer; flies through prep area; old mouse droppings in retail and storage areas and refrigerators. Ordered to close for a minimum of 48 hours on Sept. 30. 

Philadelphia Chutney
1628 SANSOM ST 19103
22 violations, 10 serious.
Person in charge did not know Pa. Food Code; food safety certified person not present; employee did not wash hands after drinking beverage in kitchen; kitchen handwash sink blocked by box; no soap or paper towels at handwash sink in kitchen; foods held at hazardous temperatures; insufficient thermometers; flies in kitchen; employees outer clothing not clean; employees not wearing hair restraints; insufficient refrigeration. Temporarily ordered to close on Sept. 29 until food safety certified person arrived. 

Happy Wok
6420 FRANKFORD AVE 19135
16 violations, 3 serious.
Certified food handler not present at all times; empty paper towel dispenser, no soap in customer restroom; insufficient hot water; mouse feces on floors throughout kitchen, storage room, walk-in cooler and metal shelving; small insects on cutting board; front door open and unscreened. Previously ordered to temporarily close Oct. 10, 2013, Jan. 29, 2014,   Ordered to close for a minimum of 48 hours on Sept. 28.  Permitted to reopen Sept. 30.

Fatso Foggerty's
2655 S 18TH ST 19145
12 violations, 4 serious.
Food safety certified person not present; employee seen smoking inside restaurant; no hot water in toilet rooms; no sign posted at sink to remind food employees to wash hands; dead mouse on glueboard in bar. Agreed to temporarily close on Sept. 28.  

European Republic
602 SOUTH ST 19147
1 violation, 1 serious.
No person in charge on premises.  Agreed to temporarily close on Sept. 28. Reopened Sept. 29.

Dawn's Breakfast
7182 OGONTZ AVE 19138
3 violations, 2 serious.
Severe mouse and roach infestation; live roaches inside table mounted can opener and on food contact surfaces in kitchen and storage areas; dead and live roaches on food preparation table; mouse feces inside cabinets, on starage crate, lower shelving and kitchen floors; house flies in dining area; roach waste on kitchen walls. Previously ordered to discontinue operations on Sept. 2, 2011. Ordered to close for 48 hours on Sept. 28. 

El Paisano Market
918 WASHINGTON AVE 19146
3 violations.
Mouse dropings on shelving; nine bags of soap powder gnawed by rodents. Previously closed by health department on June 11 and July 15, 2014; and  Sept. 23 2016; Ordered to close for 48 hours on Sept. 26. Cleared to reopen Sept. 28

SKA
2418 KENSINGTON AVE 19125
13 violations, 4 serious.
Food safety certified person not present; business does not have health awareness reporting procedure for employees; no sign at sink reminding employees to wash hands; front door and back door propped open. Agreed to temporarily close on Sept. 26. 

Lourn Pizza
2339 W LEHIGH AVE 19132
12 violations, 5 serious.
Evidence of rodent and insect activity in food prep areas; food safety certified person not present; no health awareness reporting procedure for food employees; uncovered items in freezers; accumulated food residue on slicer; food held at hazardous temperatures; mouse droppings on shelving; flies in display case on cheese. Agreed to temporarily close on Sept. 26. 

Touba Tawfekh Market
5106 FRANKFORD AVE 19124
19 violations, 3 serious.
Rodent remains on restroom floor; house flies and fruit flies in retail area; accumulated rodent feces on floors and shelving; operating without a license; no paper towels in restroom; food items sold without labels or documentation; meats in freezer no properly wrapped and covered; thermometers not available in all refrigeration units; extensive cleaning needed for floors and shelves; Ordered to close for a minimum of 48 hours on Sept. 26. 

New York Food Market and Deli
7207 STENTON AVE 19138
12 violations, 6 serious.
No food safety certified person present; soiled towels in handwashing sink; no soap or towels at sinks; foods held at hazardous temperataors; evidence of rodent activity, mouse droppings on shelving and floor perimeters. Agreed to temporarily close on Sept. 26. 

Alma Mater
7165 GERMANTOWN AVE 19119
17 violations, 6 serious.
Food certified person did not know reportable food borne illnesses; no soap or paper towels at basement hand washing sink; accumulated food residue on slicer; food held at hazardous temperatures; mouse feces on bar floor and basement toilet room floors; clogged floor drain; basement floors need cleaning. Ordered to close by Court of Common Pleas on Sept. 25. Permitted to reopen Sept. 29.

Mister Softee/ZBW-8366 (PA)
Mobile food vendor, 19125
4 violations, 3 serious.
No water; damaged water pipes; no health department sticker; person in charged refused to allow full inspection; police escorted truck off premises. Agreed to voluntarily close on Sept. 25. 

Palace African Restaurant
5514 RISING SUN AVE 19120
8 violations, 1 serious.
Roaches and flies in kitchen, basement and serving areas; pooled water at bottom of the refrigerator; no utility sink; no sign in toilet rooms reminding employees to wash hands; mold, dead flies, and dead roaches along gaskets of chest freezer in basement; dead flies covering jar of honey mustard dressing inside walk-in refigerator. Previously asked to close by health department on July 5 and Sept. 21. Ordered to close again on Sept. 23. 

Alma Mater
7165 GERMANTOWN AVE 19119
10 violations, 3 serious.
Empty paper towel dispenser; raw bacon held at hazardous temperature; thermometers improperly calibrated; "a few" house flies in prep area. Ordered to close Sept. 23.

Kashmir Garden Supermarket
9325 KREWSTOWN RD 19115
9 violations, 4 serious.
Fly infestation; moldy surfaces inside ice machine; no paper towels at hand wash sink; whole skinned goat improperly stored near ready-to-eat produce; small roaches inside 3 compartment sink. Previously closed by health department on Dec. 11, 2012 and Jan. 25, 2013. Ordered to close for minimum of 48 hours on Sept. 22. Permitted to reopen Sept. 27

Plenty Cafe
1602 SPRUCE ST 19103
16 violations, 6 serious.
Handwash sink in kitchen was blocked by box of tomatoes and a pot; no chemical sanitizer solution used to clean food contact surfaces and utensils; cellphone stored with food in kitchen; no thermometers in refrigerators or freezer in basement; flies in kitchen; mouse droppings on shelves; wastewater backing up into 3-basin sink; excessive water on floor in basement. Agreed to temporarily close on Sept. 22.