Neighbors rally to bring to light alleged illegal food business

By Tom Momberg

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) rallied outside a single-family rental home in Bayside Tuesday with many concerned neighbors fearing potential hazardous consequences from what they allege is a commercial food operation being conducted illegally.

Residents lodged complaints with the appropriate city agencies and called on Avella to look into the suspected business being run at 33-31 204th St. Avella said he called on both the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the city Department of Buildings to investigate.

The Health Department sent cease-and-desist orders to both the property owners and the tenants after attempting to investigate resulting only in a violation, which was paid.

But neighbors still claim they smell potent food odors and burning oil at all times of day and night. They also say they have seen a large propane tank being taken inside and many different people go in and out of the home carrying large food containers while double parking cars for pickup and drop off daily.

“You cannot conduct a commercial operation in a residential home. What makes it worse if you think about it is that it is a semi-attached home,” Avella said. “What facilities do they have in there for cooking? Do they have propane or a larger-than-normal commercial stove? Could there be an explosion that not only affects them but affects neighboring properties?”

The Health Department said it was finally able to fully inspect the house with the presence of the owner Tuesday, and found no evidence of illegal food production or the use or removal of equipment used for the commercial production of food.

The property, which is deeded to John and Sophia Sideris of Roslyn Heights, L.I., has two open complaints filed against it on the Department of Building’s website and 11 in total since August 2015. Nine specifically allege the residence was being used as an illegal food business.

The property owners did not respond to requests for comment from the TimesLedger Newspapers

. Avella said he spoke to them, at which time they told him they would put an end to the tenant’s operation, but he has not heard from them since and food is still being produced and sent out.

“I want to thank the Department of Health, because they have been very responsive and there is no doubt they have been trying to do the job,” the senator said. “On the other hand, the Department of Buildings still has not responded to my initial requests. This place, if they don’t stop, should be padlocked — period.”

The Department of Buildings said it has been responding to the complaints, but has not been able to confirm what neighbors allege.

“In response to complaints from the public, we attempted to inspect the building twice last month but could not gain access,” a DOB spokesman said. “Our Queens inspection team will revisit this site in the near future.”

One of the complaints lodged on the DOB’s website claims several neighbors have witnessed a house of worship being operated out of the home, where the current tenants have had a lease since April. The complaint alleged that dozens of people were being taken to the home via a church bus and that neighbors often heard singing and chanting from outside.

If the tenants are producing food for a house of worship, temporary food service establishment laws governing the production of food not made for profit do not apply unless produced for an event open to the public, the Health Department said. Avella said in his investigation, the place where the food has been distributed had not been determined.

Marisa Tarantino, a neighbor who lives in the attached residence said the smell of food at all times of day is overwhelming in her own home, often causing her to leave. She said the hours of operation are always different in what she believes is an attempt throw off those complaining or those agencies trying to enforce laws.

“We are in fear of a fire … we’re afraid of rodents. There are cars coming in and out of here and we don’t know what’s going on,” Tarantino said. “Our hands are tied — we don’t know what to do and we are desperate — we are in fear, and it’s not fair. We are honest, taxpaying citizens and all we want is the respect that we give the community.”

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.