WASHINGTON - As a contestant on the reality television show "Top Chef," Spike Mendelsohn became accustomed to harsh criticism from the judges.
Now in the real world, his critics are government inspectors.
WTOP has learned Mendelsohn's new Capitol Hill restaurant, Good Stuff Eatery, has been cited by the District's Department of Health for several "critical violations" -- including storing beef outside in the alley behind his restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue.
When WTOP asked Mendelsohn about the health code violations, he said the health inspector didn't actually see any problems.
"The health inspector never came in and saw violations," Mendelsohn, 27, says. "It was just a neighbor that was being difficult that had taken a picture right when we get our delivery in the morning. They didn't find meat in the back alley."
But a Sept. 4, 2008 D.C. Department of Health inspection report shows an inspector found raw meat in the same location.
D.C. Department of Health Sanitarian Sharon Cave writes, "Investigated complaint. Complaint valid. Food stored in alley. Beef stored in alley. A 5-Day notice was given."
The report also shows the hamburger joint was cited for three critical violations on Sept. 4 for the following risk factors:
- Hand washing facilities were not accessible to employees;
- Food contact surfaces (cutting boards) were not properly sanitized;
- Food was not segregated, separated and protected
Good Stuff Eatery General Manager Michael Colletti signed the report.
Mendelsohn acknowledged the violations after being confronted with the report, but maintains the food was only in the alley for a short time because it had just been dropped off by a delivery truck.
"Anything that's in my alley is not there for more than five or seven minutes," Mendelsohn says.
The beef is not the only food item spotted in the alley. A photo obtained by WTOP shows two racks of bread outside the restaurant's rear entrance, in an alley next to several dumpsters.
D.C. Department of Health Director of Communications LaShon Beamon says inspectors would not have issued a citation if the food was in the midst of being delivered.
If the report was not correct, "the manager shouldn't have signed it," Beamon says.
In fact, when health inspectors returned on Sept. 5, they found potatoes in the alley, but noted that they had just been delivered.
Beamon says her department has received several anonymous complaints about violations at Good Stuff Eatery.
The D.C. Department of Health was responding to one of those complaints when they visited the restaurant on Sept. 4.
The handwritten report says the restaurant should "clean and sanitize cutting boards thru-out [sic] where needed. Food should be stored in an adequate location and sanitary. (Food should not be stored in alley.)."
The D.C. Department of Health isn't the only agency keeping a close eye on the Top Chef, who was ousted in episode 12.
Director of the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration Maria Delaney tells WTOP her department has an open investigation and confirmed her inspectors have found several violations at Mendelsohn's restaurant.
Delaney would not comment on the violations, but says the inspectors' reports would be presented to the ABRA Board within the next week to 10 days for further action.
As for the beef found behind Good Stuff Eatery, Beamon says inspectors tested the temperature of the meat and found it to be safe for consumption, so they did not require the meat be thrown out.
On Sept. 4, temperatures in the D.C. area reached the 90s, according to the National Weather Service.
"It was meat that had just been delivered," Mendelsohn says. "I wouldn't throw it away -- that's my money."
Subsequent inspections on Sept. 12 and 15 found no violations.
In a Sept. 12 report, D.C. Department of Health Sanitarian Joyce Moore writes, "Handwashing accessible. Cutting boards cleaned. No food stored in alley at time of call."
"I know how to run a restaurant and I know how to keep it clean." Mendelsohn says. "You can come right here and you can eat off the floor. I don't run anything unhealthy."
(Copyright 2008 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)