Update: 5:18 p.m.: Maria Fostieris says Greek Deli reached an agreement with the health department that will allow them to operate under current conditions until April 2020. She initially told City Paper the temporary agreement was only through April 30, 2019 having read a document incorrectly.
Update 4:55 p.m.: Maria Fostieris says Greek Deli will reopen tomorrow. She explains that an inspector game and informed the restaurant that this is a temporary solution that will only last until April 30. “That’s what we had to sign,” she says. “So there is still no solution.”
Those who tried to order avgolemono soup today at Greek Deli & Catering struck out. On Monday, the DC Department of Health closed the exceedingly popular take-out counter that’s operated since 1990. A handwritten note from owner Kostas Fostieris hangs on the door next to DOH’s bright orange notice announcing the closure.
It reads: “Just to clarify, we were not closed because we improperly handled food or were unclean. After 30 years, with no notice because we do not have a restroom on premises. We are working to rectify the situation and look forward to serving you shortly.”
The most recent report posted on the DOH website is from March 2018. “The establishment does not have a restroom,” it reads. “The available restroom is located in the basement of the building.” The report provides additional information about the infraction explaining that, “each food establishment shall maintain restrooms consisting of a toilet room or toilet rooms, proper and sufficient water closets, and sinks that are conveniently located and readily accessible to all employees.”
A DOH spokesperson provided City Paper with the following statement: “DC Health is working with the Greek Deli to ensure compliance with the DC Food code as it pertains to easily accessible toilet room facilities. As soon as we are able to accomplish this they will be able to re-open.” DOH would not comment on whether Greek Deli must build a new restroom in order to reopen.
The sudden response to the situation has surprised and confused Maria Fostieris, Kostas’ daughter. Her family’s business has operated and consistently passed health inspections for three decades. “From day one of operations it’s been our procedure that we are able to use the bathroom in the building,” she explains. The bathroom in question is for employees only, not customers. “Employees take an elevator a level up or a level down. We have access to both bathrooms.”
She describes an ongoing legal battle that seems to have climaxed with the forced closure this week. “They’re claiming that they have been advising us of this issue since 2012,” Maria continues. “That is not the case. This became an issue starting last year. It was around the summer sometime when we had the one gentlemen who has been coming back and forth to the deli saying we need to have a bathroom or we won’t pass inspection.”
“We have all documentation from 2015, 2016, and 2017 where we’ve had health inspections and we’ve passed,” she continues. “They said our bathrooms are legally accessible for purposes of this code.”
DOH cites the following two pieces of D.C. code related to this closure:
2407.1 Toilets shall be provided for employees’ use in accordance with the D.C. Plumbing Code (2008) incorporating the International Plumbing Code 2006, as amended by the D.C. Plumbing Code Supplement (subtitle F of 12 DCMR). Urinals may be substituted for toilets if the substitution is authorized and conforms to the D.C. Plumbing Code (2008) incorporating the International Plumbing Code 2006, as amended by the D.C. Plumbing Code Supplement (subtitle F of 12 DCMR).
3101.1 Each food establishment shall maintain restrooms consisting of a toilet room or toilet rooms, proper and sufficient water closets, and sinks that are conveniently located and readily accessible to all employees as specified in § 3101.3.
According to Maria, her family received an email Thursday informing them of the issue. “Nothing was by certified mail. There was no phone call,” she says, adding they didn’t know the closure was coming until DOH showed up “at the beginning of lunch in front of customers” on Monday. “They gave us from Thursday up until Monday on a holiday weekend, Easter weekend, to remedy the situation.”
Maria says DOH mistakenly believes they once had access to the restrooms in the building they’re located in but no longer do. “If that’s the issue, where’s the proof?” she asks. “The burden they’re putting on us is unduly. It’s so inconsistent. Even from 2012, why have we been passing inspection every year? Why is it such an emergency to shut down a place? My dad is open there when all of D.C. is closed so as to not disappoint his customers or lose a dollar.”
They are seeking out a temporary solution while they continue to learn more about what they can do to be compliant. At the moment, Maria says they don’t have the capability to install a new bathroom. She is optimistic Greek Deli will be able to reopen tomorrow.
City Paper will continue to update this story.
Greek Deli & Catering, 1120 19th St. NW; (202) 296-2111; greekdelidc.com