Restaurant owners find fault with inspection

BY Aline Reynolds

The Battery Park City restaurant SouthWest N.Y. is fighting back after the City Department of Health issued a scathing report following a recent inspection.

In a letter addressed to Battery Park City friends, neighbors and guests, SouthWest co-owner Abraham Merchant called the report “unacceptable” and assured them the staff is taking immediate action to improve its conditions.

The report states that the restaurant and bar, located in the World Financial Center, is dirty and infested with rodents. Inspectors observed flies and roaches present in the food areas, unclean surfaces that attract vermin, and improper plumbing. The eatery, according to the evaluation, also has mice and contaminated food.

But Merchant argues the D.O.H. report contains “unsubstantiated allegations,” and the restaurant is challenging the claims in an upcoming administrative tribunal.

SouthWest is one of 26 Battery Park City restaurants and cafes that are inspected annually by the D.O.H., which assigns a certain number of points — depending on the health risk — for each violation. The restaurant accumulated 70 violation points, nearly three times the number of any other eatery in B.P.C.

The higher the score, the worse the overall grade the restaurant receives. A restaurant that collects 28 or more points for sanitary violations gets a “C.”

“This most recent inspection report is an aberration and is not consistent with our history of outstanding results,” Merchant’s letter states, mentioning three previous inspections — two earlier this year and one last year — that together only amounted to 30 violation points.

Nevertheless, the restaurant staff is now cleaning more frequently and is reevaluating its extermination policy.

“Together we developed and have already implemented a comprehensive plan to eradicate all vermin,” Merchant wrote in the letter. He is confident that SouthWest will pass the re-inspection with flying colors.

“We wish to assure our guests that they can continue to rely upon us to provide them with a clean and sanitary establishment in which to enjoy our hospitality,” said Merchant.

And while some of Southwest’s loyal patrons don’t seem to be concerned by the report, others are alarmed.

Battery Park City resident Bill Love said that, despite the latest health review, he would continue dining there without hesitation. “I’m surprised to hear this score – it seems like an aberration,” he said. Love frequents SouthWest about twice a month.

The wide gap between the past and present inspection scores, Love added, is puzzling. “It makes me wonder about the consistency of the city D.O.H. inspections over time.”

Tom Goodkind, another frequent customer, now feels queasy about returning to SouthWest, where he just celebrated his 57th birthday party with friends and family.

“I think they should get everyone to wash their hands and get back to work,” Goodkind said.

Merchant and Southwest co-owner Richard Cohn are very welcoming, Goodkind added. But that’s no excuse for unhealthy dining conditions.

“We want them to stay there,” said Goodkind. “On the other hand, we’re more concerned about our neighbors than anyone else. If anything was contaminated, it’s a tremendous concern.”