WESTFIELD, NJ — The Westfield Board of Health held a hearing with Luis E. Alvarez, owner of Old Havana on Elm Street, to discuss the restaurant’s recent board of health violations at Monday night’s meeting.
The restaurant has been cited with three less than satisfactory ratings since January 2015. Its most recent inspection took place on Feb. 14, during which health inspector Helen Menendez found numerous violations, including “pink and brown slime on the interior of the ice machine,” according to her report.
“We’ve shut it off since then and it’s about to be replaced,” Alvarez said of the ice machine.
Alvarez also insisted that he purchased a new dishwasher. Old Havana had previously been cited for a lack of detectable sanitizing liquid, according to Menendez.
“During working hours, you will find something that’s not right,” Alvarez said. “But we’re doing our best.”
Further violations from Menendez’s most recent inspection included potential for cross-contamination and a worker making a sandwich with his bare hands.
“We feel that we have not been treated right, maybe because we’re Cuban,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez claimed that the board of health unfairly interfered with his business by conducting an inspection on Valentine’s Day, which he said is a busy day for his restaurant.
“I want to be very clear with the board and with you that you are not here because you’re Cuban,” health officer Megan Avallone said. “The reason that you are brought in here today is because you have an over two-year history of not being able to comply with the food code. What makes people sick is [lack of] food safety.”
Other board members agreed with Avallone.
“It’s to Westfield’s great benefit to have diverse restaurants in town,” board member Alicia Barker said.
At the end of the hearing, the board agreed to close the restaurant for two days after any rating that’s less than satisfactory within the next year, with the dates determined by the board. Additionally, Alvarez must hire an in-store trainer to certify his staff in food safety. The certifier’s contact information will be provided by Avallone.
“We want to do it right and try to improve ourselves every day,” Alvarez said.