In Case You Forgot, Smoking’s Prohibited

Allan Appel PhotoIf he had posted a “Smoking Prohibited” sign, Chris Guerra’s new Mexican grill Cilantro would have achieved a perfect score on its health inspection as it opened for business in Westville.

Health inspectors deducted three points for that lapse, even though Guerra insisted he had already ordered the sign and it was in the mail.

The new grill on upper Whalley Avenue at Whalley Avenue and Dayton Street otherwise breezed through its recent health inspection. It scored a 97. Of 13 eateries scrutinized, 12 passed during the holiday-shortened Dec. 19 to Dec. 24 period.

His inspection revealed a curious rule unknown and, it turns out, not followed by many other restaurateurs: The posting a sign confirming a nine-year-old law that applies to all restaurants and has become a fact of life.

Guerra’s new venture abuts another restaurant he owns, Dayton Pizza, in the same building. He has been renovating the building for a year to make way for Cilantro’s opening. Cilantro, which specializes in what the menu describes as “fresh Mexican grill,” features green-tiled counters, glittery signage, and floor-to-ceiling windows that let in pleasant cascades of sunlight, along with all the action at the Hess gas station across the avenue.

City sanitarians inspect all of New Haven’s restaurants, groceries, bars, and other food-serving establishments between one and four times a year. Establishments that score less than 80 usually have two weeks to make the recommended corrections. The health department can also close a restaurant regardless of its score if the sanitarians suspect an immediate danger to public health. (Scroll down in this story for specific results from the latest inspections.)

Inspectors stress that a low score doesn’t mean a restaurant is always failing. Nor does a high score mean an eatery is always brilliant. Rather it means that at the moment of the inspectors’ unannounced visit, they found the conditions they reported.

That’s why Environmental Health Director Paul Kowalski calls each inspection a kind of sanitary “snapshot.”

Still, some people don’t like the snapshots, or making them public.

Guerra (who declined to be photographed) said he’s skeptical about the accuracy and fairness of the inspection process. He also bemoaned that a bad report made public can cost an operator thousands of dollars; he grumbled that the Independent has no business publishing inspections reports, which are public documents.

Guerra retained Karen Hanlon, a well-known restaurant designer, to help create the Cilantro space.

So Guerra did not want to post a boring, garden-variety “Smoking Prohibited” sign.

“I wanted a special sign, didn’t want a Home Depot sign,” he said. He claimed that sign was on the way when city sanitarian Ros Hamilton dropped by for Cilantro’s preoperational inspection.

Because state law requires such a sign be prominently placed in every restaurant, bar, and tavern, she deducted three points from Cilantro’s otherwise perfect score.

Despite the state law requiring “Smoking Prohibited” signs, a random check of four restaurants and bars found no such signs posted prominently, or otherwise.

Click here for a summary of the state’s 2003 Clean Indoor Air Act. It specifies that all restaurants, taverns, and bars without exception prohibit smoking and specifies even the size of the letters required in the sign. Only private clubs and tobacco bars are exempt from the prohibition.

Of the 13 restaurants inspected between Dec. 19 and Dec. 24, 12 passed. The one that did not was ordered to make required changes within two weeks. The following received passing grades:

The Winners
12/19/2012: Woodland Coffee & Tea, 97 Orange St., Score: 80; Ninth Square Market, 72 Orange St., Score: 87; News Corner, 195 Church Ave., Score: 94; Cilantro Restaurant, 1158 Whalley Ave., Score: 97; St. Andrews Day Care, 1230 Townsend Ave., Score: 100; Valley Mart LLC, 589 Valley St., Score: 97;

12/20/2012: Southern Hospitality Soul Food, 427 Whalley Ave., Score: 80

12/21/2012: Christy’s, 261 Orange St., Score: 81; Zafra, 259 Orange St., Score: 80; Fresh Taco, 39 Elm St., Score: 83; Kumo, 7 Elm St., Score: 81; New Haven Elks #25, 524 State St., Score: 80

The One Needing Improvement

100 Elm St.
Score: 69
Due: 2 Weeks

• Don’t store raw eggs over ready-to-eat foods, over exposed food products
• Need thermometers in warmest location in coolers holding prepared hot foods
• Label products not in original containers
• Wipe baffles in hood system
• Brush up defective wall tiles, wipe wall tiles, wipe air vents
• Hang up mops and brooms
• Hair restraints
• Minimize bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods
• Invert single serve containers
• No drinking from an open container in a food prep area
• Don’t store raw ground beef over read-to-eat-tuna
• Don’t store in-use spoons in standing water
• Touch up defective ceilings, touch up wall and ceiling paint
• Don’t use paper cup as scoop in food products
• Don’t store food or drink on the floor
• Clean floors under and around equipment, touch up defective flooring
• Store wipe cloths in sanitary solution
• Seal floor/wall junctions
• Wipe interior of coolers
• Fix defective walls
• Don’t line equipment or shelves with tin foil
• Label toxic items in spray bottles
• Clean gaskets in doors
• Hand sink can only be used for hand washing, not used as a dump sink
• Follow label instruction on products that state “keep refrigerated” - - corrected on site
• Don’t store dressing in cardboard box in cooler

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posted by: PH on January 2, 2013  2:13pm

I’d like to see someone push for the repeal of the law that requires no smoking signs everywhere.  Might have been useful when the law was first passed, but now it just a silly expense and an eyesore (let alone the stupidity of having it factor into a health inspection).  We all get it: no smoking in food and drinking establishments.

posted by: streever on January 2, 2013  10:50pm

OK, seriously, would “HenryCT” or anyone else who thought I was off my rocker when I criticized the Health Department like to weigh in?

Do we REALLY need No Smoking signs in restaurants? We can’t trust the staff to remind customers who—perhaps while suffering from “Time Vertigo”, a common affliction for those who travel with unstable warp holes—forgot that they can’t smoke all of a sudden?

posted by: MamaBear on January 2, 2013  11:24pm

Congratulations to all the high scorers…I appreciate knowing the health scores even if some of the owners object. On a side note, why complain? It’s a nice write up and free advertising for the new restaurant!

posted by: HhE on January 3, 2013  9:51am

Props to a restaurant that puts a good gestalt over a cheesy sign.  As far as I am concerned, Cilantro gets a perfect score.  In the interest of putting my money where my mouth is, it will be the next place I try.

Streever, does my “weigh in” count?  (tragically209.5#)  ;-)

posted by: streever on January 3, 2013  10:07am

Hhe: In my estimation, your opinion counts twice!

posted by: ebw1957 on January 3, 2013  10:33am

Wow- we finally get a decent place to open in a building, which has been until now a visual nightmare and the best the author can do is talk about a no smoking sign?

I absolutely applaud this owner’s willingness to open a restaurant in one of the parts of Whalley that needed a boost. Bravo and we’ll be in for supper! No smokers among us to worry about.

posted by: HewNaven on January 3, 2013  10:33am

Cilantro, which specializes in what the menu describes as “fresh Mexican grill,” features green-tiled counters, glittery signage, and floor-to-ceiling windows that let in pleasant cascades of sunlight, along with all the action at the Hess gas station across the avenue.

Imagine how much nicer that view would be had the state not ignored the traffic-calming requests of the community. Not to mention, Guerra would get a lot more business without cars speeding by on a 4-lane highway. Instead bikes, walkers, joggers, strollers, maybe even a street car would pass by. Oh well. At least we’ve got that highway rest-stop aesthetic that we all value so much.

posted by: HenryCT on January 3, 2013  11:21am

Let us praise those establishments that abide by all the health regulations, which our legislators put in place to protect workers and customers. Smoking is still a scourge in our country and the world. Reminding people, especially the youth, that the tobacco companies are out to kill us is a good thing. Kudos Cilantro! 97 is a great score. I look forward to trying the new restaurant.

posted by: streever on January 3, 2013  12:12pm

I don’t think that a “No Smoking” sign is actually a matter of health. Smoking or not smoking is. Allowing or disallowing smoking is. More useless signage that clutters up our field of view and presents a less attractive world is absolutely not!

This is a series they do about health inspections, so they don’t usually get into the restaurant as a review.

posted by: HhE on January 3, 2013  7:06pm

streever, since I am only 40# over my target weight, can we agree my opinion has a coefficient of 1.2?

A no smoking sign can be a useful tool for staff to use to remind someone who has forgotten or somehow not gotten the word that smoking is illegal.  I don’t let people smoke at my house, but I don’t need a sign. 

Now if the NHI needs a restaurant critic, I am game.  Of course, a sample of one is not representative, so I will need to test every place repeatedly, especially the Thai and Indian.

posted by: Edward_H on January 4, 2013  12:16am

posted by: PH on January 2, 2013 1:13pmI’d like to see someone push for the repeal of the law that requires no smoking signs everywhere. 

Repeal it? That makes way too much sense

posted by: OneWithEverything on January 4, 2013  1:35pm

I am happy that Cilantro has opened in this spot. Not only do I think that they have great food they have made a great space. It is disappointing that this article focuses on 3 points deducted for a sign. That’s not a story. A 97% score ... that’s a story. A proprietor caring about a quality experience ... that’s a story. Why focus on the such a minor negative?

posted by: Edward_H on January 5, 2013  3:22am

“Why focus on the such a minor negative?”

The minor negative, which cost them a perfect score, is illustrative of the silly regulations that do nothing to promote health yet cost business owners time and money as well as provide an excuse for hiring inspectors. The more rules they have to enforce the more inspectors they will claim to need.

posted by: streever on January 5, 2013  5:45pm

Edward H has pretty well summed it up. The article is not a restaurant review: rather, it is pointing out a pretty silly and wasteful use of our government, to police restaurants for unnecessary signage. I absolutely guarantee you that there is no regular occurrence of customers at restaurants “forgetting” that they must not smoke and lighting up.

In the interest of your health, I have to motion that the NHI NOT employ you as a restaurant critic, unless they also employ me to get you on the bike/running and to also eat the food for you ;-) (With that said, maybe we need to work as a team, because I’m about 15 over where I should be!)