Dirty Dining: Hamilton County's Clean Kitchen Award winners

Only Hamilton County offers the award in Tri-State

CINCINNATI - Jennifer Davis knows her West Side customers at Gold Top Dairy Bar don’t expect fancy cuisine or white tablecloth service.

But they do expect a clean kitchen. And Davis delivers.

Gold Top Dairy Bar won a Clean Kitchen Award from Hamilton County Public Health both in 2013 and 2012.

“Anywhere you’re going to eat, I think customers are going to expect the place to be clean,” Davis said. “I know I wouldn’t go to a small place and expect anything less.”

But a WCPO Digital examination of the more than 33,000 inspection reports at more than 5,000 restaurants and other food service facilities in Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Clermont County and Northern Kentucky found that less than clean is exactly what customers get.

Restaurants across the region – including those that are part of big chains with high expectations – had health department violations last year ranging from towels left on countertops to dead roaches in rice bins.

Hamilton County Public Health established the Clean Kitchen Award in 2011 to recognize businesses like Gold Top Dairy Bar that are doing a good job year after year, said Jeremy Hessel, director of Hamilton County’s environmental health division. Hamilton County is the only jurisdiction in the region to give such awards.

“Our intention is to make sure our facilities that do a good job are rewarded,” Hessel said, and show others businesses what to strive for, too.

The county completed 6,819 inspections of all its 2,910 licensed operations in 2012. That total includes restaurants, temporary set-ups, mobile dining and vending along with school cafeterias and all other types of food service operations.

The Clean Kitchen Award means county health inspectors have found fewer than three violations at the eatery in the two years prior to each award and no critical or repeat violations during those time frames. Gold Top Dairy Bar, in fact, had no violations at all in 2012. Only 677 restaurants had no violations last year, according to county data.

Search and see how your favorite restaurant fared in health inspections in 2012 below. 

Next Page: What It Takes To Win

Restaurants Not The Only Winners

Clean Kitchen Award winners also must have at least two members of their staffs take a Level 1 food safety handler class, which requires several hours of training. And at least one staff member must have current ServSafe certification, meaning that person has completed an industry-leading food-safety training program.

The county has 16 repeat winners who have won the award each year since the program started in 2011. (See below for the full list.)

Dream Dinners at Anderson Towne Center is one of them.


From left: Lisa Giegel, Peggy Fenner and Lisa Robison.
Lucy May | WCPO Digital

Of course, Dream Dinners isn’t a restaurant. Customers go there to assemble fresh ingredients into meals that they freeze and cook later for their families at home.

But the business still has a large commercial kitchen and multiple food preparation stations that – if contaminated – could make a lot of people sick.

“We’ve never had a bad inspection,” said Peggy Fenner, manager of the Anderson Township Dream Dinners since it opened in 2007.

The three owners of the franchise were new to food service when they bought the business, said co-owner Lisa Giegel, so they all went through food safety training classes when they started and have since been to refresher classes.


Dream Dinners staffers prepare raw ingredients for clients to pick up later.
Lucy May | WCPO Digital
 

“It’s mostly moms here,” Fenner said of the staff. “And we’re just all used to cleaning up after ourselves.”

And part of the interview process before anyone is hired is making sure that prospective employees understand they will have to keep their hair up, wear gloves when handling food and follow other food safety guidelines, said Lisa Robison, another co-owner.

“We set expectations from the beginning,” she said.





 

‘1,000 Little Things’


Award-winning Taco Bell.
Lucy May | WCPO Digital

The Taco Bell at 7781 Montgomery Road is another three-time winner.

“The restaurant business is easy, but there’s 1,000 little things to do,” said Bob Hathaway, who oversees the restaurant’s operations as an area coach for the Cincinnati market for RGT Management Inc., a Memphis-based franchise owner of Taco Bell stores. “If one thing goes wrong, the whole thing can go wrong.”

Hathaway said the Taco Bell corporate standards for food safety and restaurant operations are even more stringent than the local health department’s.


Hathaway
Lucy May | WCPO Digital

He credited Jean Booth, the Kenwood restaurant’s general manager for the past six years, and her team of employees for the eatery’s strong performance and string of awards.

The key, he said, is hiring good people with a passion for the business and having good policies and procedures in place for those employees to execute.

“It’s just a sticker or just a plaque,” he said of the Clean Kitchen Award. “But it means more than that to us.”

 

Next Page: Showing Off The Award

Setting The Tone

The award means a lot to Davis, too. It’s the first post she puts on her restaurant’s Facebook page when she gets it. And customers comment regularly about the Clean Kitchen Award decal in her window.

 

Gold Top Dairy Bar.
Lucy May | WCPO Digital

 

 

Davis admits she didn’t know much about food safety when she bought Gold Top Dairy Bar at 2810 Blue Rock Road a decade ago. She was 26 at the time, a first-time business owner, and she had lots to learn, she said.

“When I first started out, I had a really strict health inspector, and he really did set the tone for me for what I expected around here,” she said. “All the inspectors I’ve had, they truly wanted me to be successful. I’ve always felt they were here to make my place better.”

Davis said her business has a strict regimen that she and her employees follow to sanitize soft serve machines, check temperatures on refrigeration equipment and freezers and keep her place organized and clean.

During a recent visit before opening time, the eatery’s stainless steel surfaces practically sparkled, every countertop was clean and supplies were neatly stacked and organized.

Davis said most of her 15 seasonal employees are young – high school and college students – so she’s constantly training on proper food safety procedures in addition to teaching them how to handle cash and even the right way to mop.

“It’s really easy to get complacent because you have so many things to do sometimes,” she said. “But we’re organized. It is a real team effort. And all the employees know what I expect.”

Complete list of places that have won Clean Kitchen Awards in 2011, 2012 and 2013:

Yagoot, 7875 Montgomery Road, Unit 1241

St. James School Cafeteria, 6111 Cheviot Road

Taco Bell #5737, 7781 Montgomery Road

Mt. Washington Care Center, 6900 Beechmont Ave.

Loveland Early Childhood Center, 6740 Loveland Miamiville Road

Loveland Elementary School, 600 Loveland Madeira Road

Loveland High School, 1 Tiger Trail

Loveland Intermediate School, 757 S. Lebanon Road

Loveland Primary School, 550 Loveland Madeira Road

Honey Baked Ham, 8315 Beechmont Ave.

Germano’s Restaurant, 9415 Montgomery Road

Blue Ash Educational Building, 10149 Kenwood Road

Arden Courts of Anderson, 6870 Clough Pike

Dream Dinners, 7500 Beechmont Ave. #413

Immaculate Heart of Mary, 7800 Beechmont Ave.

ABC Early Childhood Learning Center, 3998 Dry Ridge Road

 

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