Editorial: It had to come to this — Indian by Nature ordered to close

Thursday, September 21, 2017

After more than a year of recurring food safety violations, Greenfield’s Indian by Nature restaurant has been closed permanently.

Three times the Greenfield Board of Health did the nice thing. Board members demonstrated a compassion and flexibility you often find in a small town, by giving the Main Street restaurant scoldings and chances to literally clean up its act. They weren’t eager to kill a downtown business, but also had to fulfill their mission to protect the public from unsafe food.

The restaurant, originally named the Clay Oven, was first closed for a week in June 2016 after the owners repeatedly failed to address persistent health code violations. When the restaurant was allowed to reopen, the Health Department conducted weekly inspections, which still turned up ongoing violations, including failure to properly store raw meats, failure to store and serve foods at the proper temperatures, ongoing pest control and sanitation problems, and improper control or venting of the grease generated by kitchen equipment.

The health board then suspended the restaurant’s license a second time in September 2016, until owners could come up with a formal plan to permanently fix ongoing issues. After receiving help from a food safety consultant, and the departure of a co-owner, the restaurant was allowed to reopen once again in December 2016, this time rebranded Indian by Nature.

But by May, after more violations, Indian by Nature was ordered to close for a third time and to design a new management plan. It reopened under a three-month probationary period, operating under strict guidance of its consultant and contingent on passing biweekly Health Department inspections.

After three strikes, this was the last chance, the health board warned. Some felt the board was being too generous. And again, the restaurant failed, even though the staff knew the inspectors were coming every two weeks.

“You would think that knowing that, that would be the one day that everything shines, everything is perfect, and it’s not,” frustrated board member Steven Adam concluded this week.

Health agents said an employee was observed handling ready-to-eat naan with bare hands, and serious recurring violations over the probationary period included raw chicken stored above spinach in the refrigerator; eggs stored over ready-to-eat food; and high food temperatures in the refrigerator, among other issues.

“I would not feel comfortable going to your restaurant to eat,” Adam concluded. “And if I’m not comfortable, how can I tell the public it’s OK to go there?”

The restaurant’s consultant has defended his client, saying said he agrees there were recurring issues, but that Indian by Nature was cleaner than many other restaurants he’s been in. That may be true. But this business was under the microscope after three strikes and rightly so. And these were not spot inspections. If you can’t get everything right after months of second and third and fourth chances, what would happen if the scrutiny stopped? If anything, the health board could be faulted for being too forgiving.

“Good luck in your new venture, whatever it is,” Doyle told the eatery’s owner last week. “I’m sorry it had to come to this.”

We also are sorry to see a downtown eatery leave, but it did have to come to this. With a little luck and time Greenfield will gain a replacement restaurant that can be trusted to be safe whether inspectors are looking over its shoulder or not.