Boston Restaurants: Perception vs. Reality

By Rochelle Sharpe and David Larochelle

Yely’s Coffee Shop in Jamaica Plain gets rave reviews for its authentic Dominican food.

“Best Latin take-out food in the area,” one Yelp writer gushed, urging people to “come here if you want yummy pork or juicy rotisserie chicken.” Others described the meals as “incredibly delicious” and high-quality,” with one fan declaring: “I will go far, far out of my way for a plate of Yely’s rice with chicharones. . . Nowhere else measures up.”

But for Boston’s health inspectors, the restaurant has a more dubious distinction. Yely’s has had its business permit suspended more often for food safety violations than any other restaurant in the city during the past six years, with inspectors complaining of food preparers not washing their hands after coughing into them and dead mice decaying in traps on the kitchen floor.

Yely’s lost its license five times since 2007, edging out My Thai Café Vegetarian & Bubble Tea Bistro in Chinatown, which had its license suspended four times and Navarette Restaurant, a barbeque place in Dorcester, which lost its license three times. None of the other 254 restaurants that had their licenses temporarily suspended in Boston were shut down more than twice, according to city health inspection records.

Year after year, health inspectors found similar problems at Yely’s. In 2008, the first time the restaurant lost its license, inspectors complained about substandard equipment and widespread sanitation problems. “No hot water throughout,” the 2008 report said. “Owner is working on hand sink in basement.”

Workers were using wooden sticks to stir food, inspectors said, and thermometers to detect improper food temperatures were broken or missing. Standing water covered the floor, where there were broken tiles and sheets of cardboard being used as mats. “Food handler cough into hands and not wash hands or change gloves,” one inspector wrote, urging the restaurant owner to get safety training for all employees.

But the 2012 report found similar issues. Inspectors found shelves in the food cooler covered in rust and grime. “Observed employee serve food, handle money, answer phone, without stopping to wash hands,” the report said. As for mice problems, it said: “remove dead mice observed attached to four different traps in storage room in basement. . .Rodent droppings observed on floor of storage room in basement, on floor of walk-in cooler, on floor around hand sink . . .on counter tops, shelves, and various other locations.”

At My Thai Café and Navarette Restaurant, meanwhile, inspectors found a variety of sanitation and cooking problems. The city cited the Thai restaurant for improper refrigeration, leaving soiled dishes in sink overnight, and workers smoking and leaving cigarette ashes in the kitchen sink. At Navarette, they discovered pork and beef that were only half way cooked and dangers of food cross contamination because workers were storing raw fish and pork above cut ham and cheese.

Overall, restaurants in Chinatown were shut down most often, with 14 restaurants in the tiny section of town having their licenses suspended during the past six years.