by Percy D. Luján.
The growling stomachs of Lehman students received a surprise on the first week of class, but it was no banquet.
On Wednesday January 30, the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene informed that the Underground Lounge, Lehman’s main cafeteria, had been closed “by order of the commissioner” on a note posted on one of the doors.
On a white note posted on all the doors the school wrote that the “Underground Café” had been closed due to “renovations” and asked students to go to one of the other cafeterias.
That same day, Lehman’s business manager, J. Edward Robinson, wrote in an email that as of 3:30 p.m. the cafeteria had been temporarily closed due to “circumstances beyond our control,” and that the food service vendor was taking care of the problem.
“It has nothing to do with the food,” said Hector Morales, executive chef at Nayyarsons, the company that runs Lehman’s cafeterias. “It has to do with the maintenance of the heating vents.”
Jorge Mateus, administrative superintendent at the Office of Buildings and Grounds explained that the tubes that run along the heating vents in the cafeteria go underground through many holes placed under the vents. The city decided that the space between the heating tubes and the holes were not properly patched, and these were spaces through which roaches and mice could crawl inside.
The city also made the college put door-sweeps on the doors of the cafeteria to prevent any mouse or roach to enter the facility. Mateus described how the inspector tried to shove a pencil under the door to test the new door sweeps once these were installed.
“They are more strict now,” said Ray Pegollo, Buildings and Grounds’ chief administrative superintendent. “Many restaurants with businesses in the city are leaving the city because they cannot keep up with the code.”
Mateus said that these requirements are new, and even though he agrees they are stricter, he feels they are for the better.
Morales agreed. “It is a good thing that the board of health came and found those things so we can now fix these issues,” he said. He also congratulated Buildings and Ground for doing and “amazing job.”
The cafeteria, which was authorized to reopen the very next day, opened again on February 1. However, many students were left wondering what had actually happened.
“I was surprised the Department of Health closed it because I think it was pretty clean,” said Tammy Switzer-Haigler, who eats at the cafeteria two times a week. She also thinks the people in the serving area handle the food pretty well. “I see them constantly sweeping and cleaning, but the students are slobs.”
“Most of it is good from my experience,” said Miles León, who uses the cafeteria three times a week. He said, however, that he thinks they might reuse the oil because it is very dark. He once got a little sick after eating some French fries.
Mateus also said that the college was going to take proactive measures and check Carman Café to make sure the facilities met the new standards.
In Carman Café, students of the club Bushido Anime sat playing a trading card game, computer games, and watching anime. They said that the janitors come pretty often, and that everything there was clean and comfortable.
They also said that any garbage on the tables is due to the customers that don’t pick after themselves. “I think it is a mess because of the students,” said Tania Espejo, one of the members.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene grades establishments based on a point system. The more serious the violation, the more violations points are added to the final report.
On January 39, the city’s restaurant inspection website cited a couple of serious violations including cold food not stored at the right temperature, evidence of roach and mouse activity, and food contact surfaces not properly cleaned after each use.
Minor violations included the facility not being “vermin proof,” and the “wash hands” sign not being posted near a hand wash facility. Robinson, Lehman’s business manager, said that apart from the heating vents these issues were solved that same day.
The Department of Health’s “A Guide for Food Service Operators” (available online) says that the department “may order a restaurant to temporarily close to correct a public health hazard that cannot be corrected before the end of an inspection.”
None of the students interviewed reported seeing any creature crawling inside the cafeteria. For Jeffrey Townsend, who didn’t know why they had closed the cafeteria in the first place, his issue was not with the sanitary conditions. “Whatever it was,” he said, “they got to it pretty quickly so we can all go back to our shitty-ass cafeteria that cost too much to eat at.”