By Dustin Luca
---- — ANDOVER — One of Andover’s newest downtown eateries has two months to clean up its act or risk being shut down for good.
Pizza Connection on Park Street was called before the Board of Health for a show-cause hearing Monday night after town inspectors reported problems with spoiled food, general cleanliness issues and more during recent inspections.
The Health Board voted to continue the hearing to revoke the restaurant’s food permit for two months, but not before sending a clear message to Jeffrey Wise, co-owner of the restaurant, which has been open for less than a year.
“Typically in restaurants, or any other place that sells food, the first year, they’re very compliant with the rules and, as time goes by, they may become a little complacent and fall through the cracks,” board member Gopala Dwarakanath said. “In regards to Pizza Connection, from the moment it was open, there were violations. I’m really surprised the start itself wasn’t a good start.”
The Health Department has received two complaints about Pizza Connection’s food in recent months. Health Director Tom Carbone said on April 29, someone reported getting sick after eating at the restaurant. Another complaint was lodged on Aug. 1 after sandwiches from the restaurant contained spoiled meat, according to Carbone.
Health officials made two visits to the restaurant following the August report and found issues had not only gone unresolved, but worsened, prompting them to order the restaurant to close for business the first weekend of the month. The restaurant reopened Monday, Aug. 5, and the show-cause hearing was then scheduled to take possible action, Carbone said.
On Monday night, the Board of Health ordered the restaurant to hire a private inspection service to monitor the operation. It also called for continued town-driven health inspections and a follow-up discussion in October.
At the hearing, Wise called health officials’ rebuke “our wake-up call.”
“I understand why I’m here,” he said. “This was a giant mistake on our behalf. I understand what needs to be done to correct it.”
In light of the issues, Wise said oversight by the owners is now key in making sure the staff keeps the restaurant running properly. Protocols have been set up to make sure food is handled safely, to track expiration dates for food and other operating practices, and employees are required to complete daily checklists of their duties, he said.
“The checklists, obviously, go a long way,” he said. “I see a change in the operation of the store already. I see the fact that everything I have on the list is being done and all the measures that should be taken are being taken.”
Even then, Board of Health Chairwoman Candace Martin was concerned.
“I’m looking at an establishment that has been around 10 months, and you’ve had an administrative hearing, and you’ve had four inspections, and you’ve been closed,” Martin said. “You have an investment here. You should take some pride in it. You received the warnings, and you didn’t heed them.”
Wise, who opened the restaurant late last year through a partnership with two friends, acknowledged the owners are gearing up to sell the business and they want to keep the doors open until then. He said the business is taking the matter very seriously.
“The owners, we’re all scared to get our license revoked. We have $130,000 invested in this restaurant,” he said. “A revoked license, it’s all gone and we understand that. But we should have understood it further.”
While saying he was “not making excuses,” Wise attributed the April complaint, involving bad chicken tenders, as possibly coming from “a disgruntled employee at the time” who could have filed a baseless report.
The Board of Health voted to have the private firm’s inspections begin this week and that their reports be turned into the Health Department. Staff scheduled were also ordered to be filed with the Health Department.