College students aren’t always known for their fine dining standards. Often, a cheap meal from a chain restaurant or local business is good enough for busy students.
However, the City of Chicago’s Data Portal food inspection dataset indicates members of the Loyola community might want to be more careful about where they get their food.
Numerous restaurants near Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus, including Heartland Cafe, Subway and Chipotle, in addition to Loyola’s own dining halls, have failed parts of food inspections conducted in recent years, according to the data.
Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood Ave., a primarily vegetarian restaurant with a food store attached, is a repeat offender that has failed inspections each year since 2009 — with the exception of 2010. The most recent failed inspection, on Feb. 19, included comments of “prep cooler on north wall at improper temperature” of 47.5 degrees Fahrenheit rather than 40 degrees and “approximately 25 rodent droppings” in the hallway, in the dish washing machine room and near the furnace, though none were near the food.
In 2009, the cafe temporarily closed because of a failed inspection.
Heartland Cafe passed a follow-up inspection Feb. 26, according to Managing Partner Tom Rosenfeld, though it is not currently on the Data Portal.
Rosenfeld said failed inspections are part of a “flawed” health inspection system that is “very punitive.” Rosenfeld said there have been occasions where a health inspector has stayed for six hours looking for something to cite.
“Everyone pays attention to the fails. No one pays attention to the passes,” said Rosenfeld. “It’s just a very negative process that is tilted against the small business owner … We do everything we can to be a healthy place to eat.”
Rosenfeld said the building is 100 years old and pest control comes to the building every other week as a preventative measure. All issues that arise in inspections are resolved within one week, according to Rosenfeld.
First-year Loyola student Carolyn Fogleman, who has eaten at Heartland Cafe on multiple occasions and bought groceries there, said she was disappointed to learn that the restaurant had failed inspections.
“That’s pretty surprising to me … It seems so eco-friendly,” said the 18-year-old communication studies major. “For them to not be maintaining the upkeep of their building … it’s kind of disturbing.”
Fogleman said she will likely continue going to Heartland Cafe because she likes the food but she is concerned about the repetitive failings.
Restaurants undergo three types of health inspections, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.
The first inspection comes a few days after a food establishment applies for a business license. Each hopeful business owner must prepare a menu of the foods that will be served and their preparation methods so the inspector can assess the risk level of the restaurant.
These risk levels determine how often a business is subject to routine health inspections. Level 1 restaurants (such as Heartland Cafe) pose the most risk and undergo two inspections per year. Level 2 gives restaurants one inspection per year, and Level 3 businesses (such as the grocery part of Walgreens) are inspected one every other year.
In addition to the expected health assessments, restaurants face surprise inspections when the City of Chicago receives a complaint.
About 30 percent of food inspections result in a failed grade, according to Matt Smith, the director of public affairs for the Chicago Department of Public Health. He said the most common reason restaurants fail inspection is pest control issues.
The 24-hour Subway restaurant in the Granada Center is another Level 1 offender that has failed complaint inspections. The sandwich shop received comments of improper food storage temperature and flies near the food in 2012. Other issues arose in 2010 and 2013 before the restaurant had to close for a day in February 2015 due to a lack of hot water and an unsanitary men’s restroom. Subway passed the follow-up inspection.
Subway’s store manager, Perven Ali, said customers should not be worried about the food because the problems were resolved right away.
“When [the inspectors] come suddenly, they let us know [what] we are doing wrong [and] where we are right, so it’s good,” said Ali.
Other nearby Level 1 restaurants to fail inspections include Chipotle Mexican Grill and Ann Sather Restaurants.
Chipotle, which is no stranger to health issues as a corporation, failed seven of its past 17 inspections for reasons including potentially hazardous food temperatures, unmaintained outside garbage area and, in May 2013, rat droppings in the outdoor shed. Chipotle passed its two most recent inspections in August and October of 2015.
Chipotle staff declined to comment when contacted.
Ann Sather on Granville Avenue failed one inspection in 2012 and one in May 2015, both for small flies in the restaurant and the 2012 inspection for water-stained ceiling tiles.
Ann Sather Restaurants responded to initial efforts of contact, but did not respond to an interview request at the time of publication.
Loyola’s dining halls, operated under Aramark, failed two inspections for technical reasons.
Damen Dining failed an inspection in March 2015, with comments on the assessment including to provide “light shields throughout all the prep areas” and “hot water at faucet where the yogurt machine is installed.” It was also cited for an unclean dumpster area. Each inspection since has passed.
Simpson Dining failed an inspection in February 2014 primarily due to a backed-up hand sink.
Both dining halls have also received comments regarding employee hygiene involving improper hand washing or glove use.
Aramark brings in a third-party inspector to do additional assessments, according to William Langlois, director of operations for Aramark at Loyola. He said employees are also re-trained after inspections regarding the comments.
For sophomore Brock Johnson, hearing about failed inspections in the dining halls adds to his overall discontent with the system.
“I think Loyola has an obligation to maintain that the food in all dining halls being served is passing food inspection,” said the 19-year-old sociology major. “As a student on-campus, it’s a little alarming to find out, and this is the first time I’m hearing about this — that Loyola has failed food inspections … I think that just contributes to the larger-scale issue.”
High-risk restaurants are not the only ones at fault. The Coffee Shop, a Level 2 restaurant on Sheridan Road, failed one inspection in 2014 and one in December 2015 for “slime” in the ice machine.
The Coffee Shop co-owner Tammie Mann said the outcome of the inspections is a result of poor timing. She said the ice machine filter had to be turned off because of the city’s work on street plumbing in 2014, and the second failure was due to a calcium deposit that is difficult to clean without strong chemicals that would be too harmful to use near food.
Overall, Mann said The Coffee Shop has always had pleasant experiences with the city’s health inspectors.
“You’re always nervous when the health department comes, but really, they are so helpful to us,” said Mann. “They give us more help than they give us harm … I’m never worried about the health department.”
Sophomore and frequent customer of The Coffee Shop Rachel Taylor, 20, said these past inspections would not keep her from going to the cafe.
“I know it’s a very small mom-and-pop kind of shop, so it doesn’t really impact my going there,” said Taylor, a management major. “I would say that obviously there needs to be more precautions.”
Smith, from the Department of Public Health, advises citizens to be aware of their food’s history.
“Customers should always look at the posted summary report and check the [City of Chicago’s] Data Portal to help them make informed choices,” said Smith.