A well-regarded Chicago restaurant — owned by a couple of Oak Parkers — has been shuttered by city inspectors for going on three weeks. But after fixing a myriad of issues, the proprietors of the Depot American Diner hope to resume dishing out their famous pot roast and homemade donuts sometime next week.
Ever since opening five years ago, the Depot, 5840 W. Roosevelt Road, has steadily built a following. Tucked away in Chicago's tiny "Island" neighborhood, they've gained local and national exposure alike, including a plug on the Food Network a couple of years ago.
Co-owner Anna Marie Nava said they've never had a problem passing a health inspection since opening in January 2007. But that all changed during the rush of the lunch hour March 15 when they got a visit from an "inspector from hell."
Workers were poking in and out of the cooler grabbing food items, and because of that, the fridge was off by 2 degrees, Nava said, earning a more-serious health violation. On top of that, the inspector hit The Depot for a series of minor violations that had never rose to the top before. Those ran from torn booth seats, to damaged floor tiles, to replacing burnt-out light bulbs and a hinge on the bathroom door.
All told, they ended up having to pay more than $4,000 in fines to the city, and have been forced to shut down the restaurant for about three weeks. They've since fixed the cooler and revamped the inside and expect to reopen by next week.
Nava was unsure why the Depot had the book thrown at it but speculated that it was tied to the new mayoral administration in Chicago.
"It does seem like they had it in for us," she said. "I think they're just picking on some of the small businesses, thinking you'll be an easy target because you're not going to have some big corporation behind you."
Efrat Stein, a spokeswoman for the City of Chicago Department of Public Health, said, altogether, they issued eight violations, including two critical, two serious and four minor. She also said The Depot was operating with an expired retail food license. She said city inspectors take all violations very seriously.
"What I can tell you is that our number-one priority is ensuring food safety and preventing food-borne illness from happening," she said. "Maintaining safe refrigeration temperatures is critical in ensuring food is kept at safe levels."
Nava and her husband, Robert, have spent more than 20 years in the restaurant business, and also own Olive or Twist in Berwyn. With taxes and food prices rising, and the recently paid fines and fix up costs, Nava said they may have to increase their prices slightly.