Main Street Café in west Belleville reopened in late August after critical health code violations forced it to shut down for about a week.
The St. Clair County Health Department inspected the popular restaurant 13 times between July and August, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Documents show that a complaint filed in July spurred a series of inspections.
“The cook stirs food with his finger,” the complainant told the Health Department on July 23, according to the reports. “Food is sometimes forgot about and served the next day.”
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The complainant also said cooks were leaving raw chicken out all day, and food preparers were not wearing hairnets or gloves.
As a result of the complaint, county inspectors found critical violations 12 out of the 13 visits, an outcome that led to the restaurant’s food permit license being temporarily suspended Aug. 17. The business was closed for more than a week and reopened Aug. 28.
The owners of Main Street Café say the problems have been fixed following an Aug. 23 hearing at the St. Clair County Health Department.
As a result of the hearing, Main Street Café will hold mandatory training for employees to review hand washing, cross-contamination prevention and temperature-control regulations.
A history of complaints
This isn’t the first time health code violations have forced the cafe to close. Health inspectors shut the restaurant down Jan. 26, 2017, according to St. Clair County Health Department documents obtained by the BND.
Critical violations during the 2017 inspection included concerns about cooks not washing their hands, an absent certified food manager, and cross contamination in the kitchen.
“I’m really tired,” owner Betty Chu said in August. “Every time it’s something different. We’re so tired.”
During a previous interview with the News-Democrat in March, Chu blamed her former landlord for not keeping up the building. His lack of upkeep, Chu said, led to past health-code violations. She’s purchased the building since then.
This time around health inspectors had concerns about food temperatures and cross contamination.
“Employees are still having a hard time cooling food,” an inspector wrote July 30. “... pork was directly placed on top of steaks in the one refrigeration (unit) and in another refrigeration chicken was over pre-cooked ribs and pork.”
Working in hot conditions
Becky Belleville, the restaurant manager, blames the summer heat for violations connected to food storage and refrigeration. The kitchen does not have an air conditioner and the restaurant’s coolers couldn’t withstand hot temperatures inside.
Belleville said the cafe will get new coolers but other concerns about the building shouldn’t be an issue because the property is older.
“A lot of things that apply to a newer restaurant can’t apply to us,” Belleville said. “I really don’t think they (the Health Department) understood the nature of the building and everything that needs to be done.”
Customers keep coming back
Belleville said loyal customers continue to come back to the cafe again and again.
“Our place is totally different than anywhere else,” Belleville said. “At the end of the day we’re one big family.”
She knows most of the regulars by name, including Leslie Sandheinrich and her mother, Ann May.
They visit the cafe often. For the last seven years, the cafe has served as their go-to place when they want to drive out of the neighborhood to visit a restaurant.
“The food is good. The service is good. The people are wonderful,” Sandheinrich said. “We like going where people know our names.”