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Millersport restaurants hurting for business

MILLERSPORT – It’s not only Papa Foti’s owner Kenny Hawk who’s smarting from a Fairfield Department of Health mistake on March 11.

“ It’s been dead here ever since,” said Hometown Hot Dogs owner Kim Oxley.

March 11, the health department hung 13 closure signs across Fairfield County on restaurants for failure to renew their annual food service license or to pay the mandatory late payment penalty, Environmental Health Director Larry Hanna told The Beacon. The signs said the restaurants had been closed by the health department.

Hanna termed the sign hangings a very “effective” way to get license fees paid. All 13 paid their fees in a matter of hours.

Unfortunately, the sign placed on Papa Foti’s door was supposed to be posted on another Millersport pizza business. Hawk said his front door clearly displays his address only a couple feet below where the closure sign was posted.

“I don’t think this place has ever had that slow of a weekend,” said Hawk, who estimated his business was down 50 percent since the sign was on his door.

“My exact thoughts when I saw it? Stunned, stunned,” he said. “That’s basically a slap to the name (of Papa Foti’s). We’re a small town. This goes like wildfire.”

The story of the health department’s mistake was widely publicized in the central Ohio last week. None of those reports named the restaurant that should have received the notice.

Oxley believes those reports have affected business for Millersport’s other restaurants, including hers. She said her business dropped significantly since the Papa Foti’s incident. “( News stories) said it was a nearby restaurant,” she said, adding that the reports didn’t clearly state that it was another pizza business that should have received the closure notice. Her restaurant is next door to Papa Foti’s.

Oxley worries the news stories lead the public to believe the closed restaurant was one of Millersport’s downtown eateries, and shares Hawk’s concern that people automatically assume that the health department only closes businesses for sanitation violations.

Hanna emphasized that isn’t the case. “The problem was they had not paid to renew their yearly food service fees,” he explained. “The problems weren’t health violations in the restaurants.”

What really irritates Hawk is that he doesn’t believe the health department is showing sufficient accountability for an error that could doom his shop, which he purchased outright with his own money September 2009. He said he has received a verbal and brief written apology (which was issued nearly a week after the closure was posted), but refused his request to issue a public statement explaining the error. “They hold us accountable for stuff,” said Hawk, adding that health code violations are public record and businesses with violations are printed in local newspapers along with their violations. He believes that the health department should be held to the same level of accountability.

At the very least, Hawk said many people have shown him sympathy and support since the incident occurred. “This town has been nothing but perfect toward us,” he said.

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