By Rebecca Henely
As Mayor Michael Bloomberg and representatives from the city Health Department returned to Spark’s Deli Monday to tout the first year of the city’s letter grade system for restaurants, he said he wants the program to be expanded to street vendors.
The mayor initially announced the program, responsible for the “A,” “B” and “C” signs seen in restaurant windows, in July 2010 at the Long Island City shop, which was the first restaurant in the city to get an “A.”
In response to a question, Bloomberg said he would like those grades to be posted on vendy windows as well.
“I would love to see, before I buy from a cart, a sign up there telling me whether or not the guy washed his hands before he reaches in and pulls out the hot dog,” Bloomberg said. “I love to eat from street vendors.”
Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said the program would be difficult to replicate with carts since their constant movement makes surprise re-inspections difficult.
But it was not all disagreement. The mayor and Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs bought coffee and shared a sandwich at Spark’s Deli, at 28-31 Borden Ave. Spark’s was the first of the city’s more than 24,000 restaurants to get an “A” grade, which it maintained on its second inspection and which the mayor delivered.
“If you set yourself up with a routine and you stick close to that routine, you get an ‘A,’” said co-owner Tony Araujo of his successful re-inspection.
Bloomberg said nearly 90 percent of restaurants across the city have gone through the inspection process. Those restaurants with 0 to 13 violation points get an “A,” restaurants with 14 to 27 violation points get a “B” and restaurants with 28 or more violation points get a “C.”
Initially, even those restaurants which received “A” grades were fined if any violations were found. But the owners of Spark’s Deli, which received 10 violation points and were fined $800 in their first inspection, said “A” restaurants should get their fines waived as an incentive — a move the city agreed to do, Bloomberg said.
Jose Araujo, the other co-owner, thanked the city for waiving the fees.
In enumerating the program’s successes, Bloomberg and Farley referred to a Baruch College survey that said 36 percent of restaurant customers considered letter grades when choosing a restaurant, 29 percent considered them most of the time and 23 percent considered them some of the time.
Farley said grades have also been going up for restaurants on re-inspection. He said 40 percent of restaurants that received a “B” on their first inspection got an “A” on their re-inspection, and 72 percent of restaurants that received a “C” improved to receive an “A” or “B.”
“The point is all these restaurants are improving,” Farley said.
Bloomberg said the program was based on a system in Los Angeles, where 40 percent of restaurants received an “A” rating in the first year and 80 percent did in the second year.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.