Mike Sayyed spent 11 years building his business.
Julian’s Brick Oven Pizza thrived — first in Saugatuck, then on Post Road East near Maple Avenue. There’s a Julian’s in Monroe too.
His restaurants are clean. His food is very good.
Then — in November — a young health inspector came. She spent nearly 3 hours in his Westport kitchen.
She took a point off here for a cup in the wrong place, a point off there for another petty infraction. She kept finding obscure violations. It all added up to a failing grade of 64.
Julian’s had never failed before. Their grades had always been 89, 91 — high.
“She was just born when I got into the business,” says Sayyed, who is proud of his cleanliness and adherence to health codes. “I started in this business as a line cook. I run everything today. I serve good food, and make people happy. My customers are doctors, lawyers, professionals.
“I’m educated about inspections. I care about them. I’m not a franchisee who hires teenagers who cough on gloves.”
He asked the inspector how to improve. “She didn’t know. It was unbelievable,” he says.
Julian’s was not alone. Several other Westport restaurants received their first-ever failing grades.
All suffered heavily from losses of business.
“It sounded like I’m poisoning customers. Now the families, the regulars — they’re not coming in,” Sayyed says.
I called Jeffrey Andrews, chief sanitarian for the Westport Weston Health District.
He explained that the young inspector who failed Julian’s and several other restaurants had been undergoing training for the state Department of Health.
“When the state is involved, and the inspectors are being graded themselves, they can downgrade a restaurant for every little thing,” he acknowledged.
That’s why, he says, she took “much longer” than usual, and was “much more involved.”
Andrews notes that every restaurant with a failing grade was re-evaluated. All received much higher — and well above passing — scores.
But by then the damage to Julian’s — and several other popular Westport dining spots — had already been done.