Last week, the City of Kerens decided to change how its restaurants are inspected. Instead of using the Navarro County health department, the city has contracted with the Texas Department of State Health Services.
At the heart of the issue is a new restaurant, Italiano’s Pasta and Pizza, which opened in the location formerly held by the Grub and Gossip, at the intersection of Colket and Highway 31.
Bukuri Kadrioski is the owner of the new restaurant in Kerens. He calls the dispute between him and the health inspector “stupidity.”
“Normally, when you’re out in the county you apply with the state,” Kadrioski said. “I didn’t know Kerens had a contract with Corsicana. I tried to bend over backwards, but you can’t reason with a retard.”
Kadrioski, 32, came to Texas from Connecticut at the age of 16, he said. He claims to have been in the restaurant business, working in family stores, since he was 13.
“I know what I’m doing. By law in the state I have to have a food managers certificate. I have that. I know the law. I know exactly what I need to do.”
The location didn’t have the proper equipment for a restaurant, such as a mop sink, when he took it over, Kadrioski said. He put in the professional kitchen appliances, including refrigerator and stove.
Inside, the restaurant is very different from the previous decor of the Grub and Gossip. Instead of a country and western theme, he’s created an Italian cafe theme.
What he doesn’t dispute — what no one disputes — is that he didn’t have a permit when he opened about a month ago. Kadrioski said he thought he could get one through the mail by applying with the state on-line, as he did for his Ferris restaurant, which is strictly take-out.
Don Smirl is the county health inspector for Corsicana, Dawson, and formerly Kerens, and he claims Kadrioski should have checked with the city and followed the rules of the county.
“The guy had opened his restaurant without a permit. When I went to do the inspection he had no food thermometer and didn’t know what the temperatures were supposed to be. There was no hand-washing equipment. I closed him down and wrote him citations for not having hand-washing facilities and operating without a permit.”
When Smirl returned two weeks later he found molded food in the pizza preparation cooler, he said.
“I didn’t issue his permit and that’s when he told me he was through talking, and showed me the door,” Smirl said. “He just opened the door and pointed his finger, and I walked out the door. It was strange. It was the first (restaurateur) I’ve had do that, and I’ve been doing this for 23 years.”
Smirl wasn’t able to attend the Kerens city council meeting because he was at the Texas Environmental Health Association Meeting in Austin last week. However, at the Kerens City Council meeting, the group voted to have the state do its inspections.
“We have about 12 places that need inspections,” said Cindy Scott, Kerens city secretary. “We think we can be well-served by the state.”
David Foreman, owner of Double D’s Steakhouse in Kerens, said Kerens used to contract with the state for inspections years ago, but chose the county because it was closer and more responsive. Corsicana’s inspector comes to restaurants about every six months to a year, he said.
“We saw the (state) inspector every three or so years. I think it’s good for businesses because they don’t have to worry about passing (more frequent) inspections, but it’s bad for the citizens,” Foreman said.
Typically, a state inspector will come visit a restaurant every 18 months to two years, said Christine Mann, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“It basically depends on the risk of the firm,” she said. “Whether the food is considered complex cooking, and how hazardous the food is.”
Each restaurant is assessed at high, medium or low risk, Mann said.
“Depending on how they’re rated, our inspectors will typically inspect (a high-risk restaurant) every year. If they’re in the medium category, every 18 months. If low risk, then about every two years. If they’re cited for violations, then DHSH can increase the frequency at which it inspects a restaurant.”
State permits cost between $250 and $800, depending on annual sales, Mann said.
For his own part, Kadrioski said business is going well now, but he’s still holding a grudge against Smirl.
“Now, it’s just a personal level between me and Don Smirl,” Kadrioski said. “I’m out for his job, and I’m going to get it. He closed me down for two weeks, that cost me money. All my food products went bad.”
Smirl is not welcome on the property anymore, Kadrioski said. If the food inspector returns, Kadrioski threatened to have him arrested for trespassing.
Kadrioski makes “Italian food with an Albanian flare,” he said. That includes pizzas, as well as chicken, fish and veal dishes, according to the menu. His family is from Macedonia, a region within the former Yugoslavia.
“I’m passionate about my food,” Kadrioski said. “I’m good at it.”
He said his kitchen is visible from the dining area, and he wants his customers to feel good about where their food is being prepared.
“I keep my kitchen clean,” he said.
As for Kadrioski’s restaurant permit, he has filled out the forms on-line and his permit will be mailed to him once the state confirms Kerens as a customer, Mann said.