Chow Bella

Caffe Boas Have Different Owners and Menus -- But Similar Health Inspection Failures


Caffe Boa restaurants in Tempe and Ahwatukee have different owners and different menus, but similar health inspection failures.

This sorry coincidence came to our attention in a recent report by the Maricopa County Environmental Services department, which revealed that the popular bistro on Mill Avenue -- owned by Jay and Christine Wisniewski -- received a "no award" rating during an inspection in late May.

Checking the details on the county website, we found numerous unappetizing details, including:

* A fridge wasn't working right, causing various foods to warm up to a balmy 55 degrees.

* Hand-washing by employees wasn't happening as often as it should have been, in part because the bar didn't have a hand-washing sink. Workers were observed touching food with unwashed, bare hands; one worker was seen wiping his or her nose before handling food.

* "Breeding flies" at the bar.

The refrigerator was fixed by the time of a reinspection the next day, while another visit was scheduled for this month to check out the installation of a bar sink and whether the flies have been driven off.

With nine major violations and one repeat major violation, the Mill Avenue restaurant ended up third from the bottom of the county's weekly report, which contains 2,365 listings. Under the current county system, restaurants can rack up a ton of major violations, but repeated ones are a big no-no.

"Failure to maintain your establishment will result in immediate action to revoke your permit to operate," the county site states.

The previous inspection, conducted in late January, netted the restaurant a silver award. The county site shows two other "no awards" in the last three years, and no golds, the highest possible award.

We decided to check on the other Caffe Boa at which we've dined, the Ahwatukee location at Elliot Road and 51st Street -- and were disappointed again.

This one, owned by Scott Rennard, blew its last inspection in March with a "no award" and one repeat violation. The place also had a fly problem and not enough sanitizer in its cleaning fluids. Violations like that don't make us too queasy. But we found some of the findings in a previous inspection from December, which also rated "no award," rather revolting:

* Grime in the ice machine -- one of our pet peeves.

* Sanitizers not at proper levels, a problem observed three months later.

* Undated and expired foods, such as cooked genovese sauced with cooked artichokes that had been made on December 14 -- more than two weeks before the inspection.

Rennard's place made "gold" in one inspection last September, but that was the best it had done since June 2008. Before that, the Ahwatukee Boa scored three silvers and two "no awards."

Both of these restaurants serve tasty food, have fun atmospheres and often draw crowds. We'll keep an eye on their inspection reports and hope for improvement.

The Wisniewskis don't have much of an excuse because the other Caffe Boa they opened last year at 2837 North Power Road in Mesa, proves that they know how to keep a restaurant clean. That location scored gold in its last two inspections, and silver on its very first inspection.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.