Depot Diner temporarily closes after health inspection

Oak Park owners hope to reopen Chicago restaurant sometime next week

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

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.

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Reader Comments

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susan from Brookfield  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 8:47 AM

We loved eating at The Depot. The food was delicious. I loved the donuts. Robert was very cordial. I sure hope it reopens. somewhere

matt cordtwist  

Posted: April 18th, 2012 8:34 PM

Certainly don't need to say anything to loyal fans but hey all you naysayers, heres a statement from Facebook; WE ARE BACK!!!!! We are pleased to announce that "The Depot" will be reopening on Thursday, April 19th. Normal business hours, mon thru sun 6am to 8pm. Hope to see all of you return. Thank you everybody for patience and support.

joe from south oak park  

Posted: April 15th, 2012 10:35 PM

It's all about city revenue. Inspectors can show up in the middle of a rush at any restaurant and expect to make a few thousand in fines for the city. Rinse wash repeat and you get a bonus.


Posted: April 10th, 2012 9:34 AM

Judith Warren is right. The City of Chicago website clearly shows the Depot did NOT pass all of their inspections. Sounds like they repeatedly don't keep the kitchen as clean as it should be, and the cold food isn't even close to cold enough. 10 - 15 degrees makes a huge difference.

Chi Rest Owner  

Posted: April 10th, 2012 8:53 AM

The other issue is this, go to an ER room on Firday night after Thanksgiving and see who has Food illness and how they got it. Any ER worker will tell you that almost all cases of Food Illness comes from homes and u do it to yourself. Do we inspect homes? Why then has the City then gone from a protect and serve modle to a fine and punish modle if the risks have not increased...because they can!!!

Chi Rest Owner  

Posted: April 10th, 2012 8:49 AM

Fact, I have been told by a lead supervisor that inspectors have been told to fine first justify later. They need the $. I have two locations that where inspected on the same day, each was given a $500 fine for a critical violation and one serious violation. Two inspectors..the fine at one place was a serious fine at another place was critical and vic versa. More than anything the depot was closed for not having a proper license in place. The other stuff is embelished.

anne from Oak Park  

Posted: April 9th, 2012 7:08 PM

If there was nothing wrong with the freezer then why did they fix it? And there is nothing wrong with a tough inspector! He is looking out for the health of the public and nobody wants food poisoning!! Trust me.

matt cordtwist  

Posted: April 8th, 2012 8:14 AM

all these neg comments are mere speculaters with no basis. explain passing all inspections the past five years.and especially the comment on "the dump". you read ripped bench torn cushion and broken tile and then presume a final overall? and how do you know for sure there is not a percentage parter in O&T? But its fun to critique from your safe keyboards.


Posted: April 7th, 2012 2:47 PM

If he is a partner then he is an owner? What am I missing?


Posted: April 7th, 2012 12:23 PM

Two things. One, Olive or Twist Is owned by Regina and Martin Mendicino, of Berwyn, Robert was/is a partner in that venture. Two, we do not chose headlines or the way a story is reported.

Judith Warren from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 6th, 2012 8:06 PM

Go here: look at the Depot report from 7/14/2011 before you start bashing what the health inspector found.

A Berwynite from Berwyn  

Posted: April 5th, 2012 4:32 PM

Just a correction - they do not OWN Olive or Twist, it is owned by a couple in Berwyn. PLease make sure that the correction is noted and made.


Posted: April 5th, 2012 9:35 AM

Sorry but that doesn't sound like the "inspector from hell" to me. It sounds like an inspector actually doing his job! Sorry but what some people may think is minor is NOT when it comes to food service. And with constantly hearing that people are getting food poisoning,etc. it makes me feel good that some one is looking out for people's safety. I understand that the owners are upset but calling the inspector "inspector from hell" doesn't look good for them as business owners.

oak park tax payer  

Posted: April 5th, 2012 8:58 AM

I love eating at the Depot. I like that we have inspectors that look out for our safety. It sounds like this one was looking to be inspector of the year though. If indeed there was a broken tile or a torn cushion, give me a break. Here again I have to mention the use of common sense. Was there rat's running around? Was there items left out for extended period's of time? I will continue to eat at the Depot.

BJ the DJ from Way Out West  

Posted: April 4th, 2012 9:13 PM

Years ago I worked at a Jack-in-the-Box in Oak Park. The health inspectors were very thorough, but fair. Then I transferred to a Jack-in-the-Box in Chicago. The health inspector sat at a table in the dining area to fill out a report. Never set foot in the kitchen or the walk-in freezer. Maybe he was getting paid for that; I don't know. Obviously this one wasn't.

Russell Martin  

Posted: April 4th, 2012 5:35 PM

Until you've had government bureaucrats breathing down your neck over every little thing, it is hard to relate to what the owner is going through. Yes, health inspections are important, but sometimes the regulations don't mesh well with the REAL WORLD of trying to run a profitable business.

Depot Fan  

Posted: April 4th, 2012 4:18 PM

Yep. I love the Depot Diner, but I REALLY love inspectors who do their job. With another outbreak of salmonella in the news, and as a weekly diner at the Depot, I am puzzled by the owner's reactions. An "inspector from hell" would be one that ignored obvious health violations, or shook down owners for bribes. I am thinking the owners are not doing themselves favors by complaining about a govt official doing their job.


Posted: April 4th, 2012 2:38 PM

Inspector from hell for issuing fines that could potentially affect their following's health and safety? Refrigeration is something that should never be overlooked, even if it is only off by "2 degrees". The Food Temperature Danger Zone is between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F- if you're off by 2 degrees and in that Danger Zone for more than even an hour, you are putting customers at risk. At least now they can reopen and rest assured that they are up to code and their customers will be safe

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