Health Inspector Gives Low Grades — And Gets Them

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.

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

“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.

Sayyed got a 95 on his re-inspection. But that came after his score was released to the media, and reported in the news. The stories were quickly passed around on social media.

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.

25 responses to “Health Inspector Gives Low Grades — And Gets Them

  1. Mary Kneisel

    This makes me very angry, mainly with the news source that first reported this information. If they are going to report this sort of thing, they need to follow through with the information on reinspections.

    • Dan’s post probably has more value (10,000 readers!) 👍🏻

    • Diya Wadhwani

      I agree. Even Dan should send out an email with “Great News” the following restaurants were re-inspected and have great scores, list the new scores, and encourage all to dine there again.

  2. Jeff Launiere

    As a person who worked at multiple restaurants back in the day, I worked in some very clean places, and several very dirty places. I found often the clean ones got dinged, while the dirty ones passed inspection. Why the difference? It often came down to who was willing to pay for a good inspection. Not sure if that still goes on, but it was a regular practice 30 – 40 years ago.

  3. Kathleen Sauer

    My husband & I love going to Julian’s! The people are friendly & the food delicious! My favorite is the lemon arugula salad & the Manhattan pizza ! We have never witnessed any indication of anything other than cleanliness there; never had a bad outcome after eating etc. it’s a great place w great people!

  4. Michael A. Vitelli

    I too am a “regular”. The original report surprised – but did not – alarm me. Mainly because I had experienced Julian’s enough to be skeptical fof the initial reports. Gladly, this updated confirmed my instincts.
    While I can continue to enjoy cavatelli & broccoli rabe and eggplant parm hero’s, it’s more important for this word to get out and Mike & team get their reputation restored.

  5. Richard Fogel

    i like eating home

  6. Tom Duquette, SHS '75

    You have to wonder about the training process for these health inspectors. During my long military career I had experience as an Inspector General and was involved in the process of evaluating base capabilities in handling contingency operations to include natural disasters, terrorist/WMD incidents, civil unrest, and aviation mishaps. Part of my responsibilities was the training of our inspectors who were subject matter experts from different functional areas such as fire fighters, security forces (police), medics, etc. The hardest thing was getting these folks to provide objective, useful write-ups and not just nit-pick and tell me that something was broken. The emphasis wasn’t on just identifying a problem but also HOW that process or individual could improve and do better next time. Sounds like that’s what this young inspector wasn’t trained to do.

  7. Cristina Negrin

    Going to have lunch at Julian’s today! I agree with Jeff. When I had my catering kitchen in Westport the inspector would look for any little thing (like a disorganized drawer) and then say he’s give me a good grade if I would go out with him. I took the bad grade which would be corrected when I reported him (happened more than once)!

  8. Peter Flatow

    We can/should add this example to the long (and getting longer list) of things that is disadvantaging CT. People need to be trained but to send out a trainee without a trainer when a economic impact is possible is just malpractice. So much to fix!

    • Scott Broder

      My wife and I have been going to Julyhis past year ian’s as we live close by. The food besides their delicious pizza is notably fresh, very well prepared and served. This is a charming, well run WESTPORT gem for a low key Italian restaurant.
      The initial inappropriate inspection by the Health Food Department should be advertised by them with the morecthen passing second inspection and every other media outlet to correct this unfair treatment.
      Give Julian’s a try👍🏼 🌟

  9. health department food inspections help keep the public safe – it is public you nfirmation. I grew up in a local family owned food business, I know it’s the most challenging on so many levels. That said, it is EVERY food business owner’s responsibility to be educated on safe food handling / operations and enforce them – every single day – whether the health inspector is coming or not – this keeps customers safe, owners in business and people employed.

    With social media, it’s easy for businesses to show what improvements / corrections are made … brag : show off clean kitchens, thermometers etc – turn the lemons (low scores) into lemonade 🙂

  10. Patty Graves

    I wonder, was the reinspection was done by the same person ?

  11. Bonnie Bradley

    This post and the comments should be required reading for the Health Department’s trainees.

  12. Bonnie Bradley

    This post and the comments should be required reading for all Health Department trainees.

  13. Terry Brannigan

    That’s horrible. Dan you’re the man. You are the Ray Donavon of Westport. You fix things like this! Thanks for caring

  14. Robert Mitchell

    Thanks, Dan. A valuable post.

    • Cathy romano

      We have eaten at Julians for years both Saugatuck when it was there and Westport it is a wonderful place to eat it’s clean and it’s too bad they got bad press thanks Dan for letting us know what was happening Everyone go eat at Julians

  15. I hope that the young intern who conducted the inspection re-considers his career in public health. His employment record should include all the above supporting comments for the care that Julian’s has taken.

  16. Arline Gertzoff

    Total nonsense about Julian’s.I regularly got pizza in Saugatuck and go to the Post. Rd for for pizza and delicious entrees .The place is immaculate ,good service and friendlyplace

  17. Elisabeth Keane

    Julian’s food is wonderful. And they have delivery!

  18. This is the kind of story that gives regulation a bad name. I have to wonder what incentives young inspectors like this one are given to guide them as they go about their work? Are they somehow being rewarded for the number of violations they cite?

    Even most libertarians agree that vigorous heath inspections of food-handling operations are necessary to protect the public against infectious disease. However, if the function is badly managed, then misapplication of resources means that responsible businesses can be damaged while culprits go undetected.

  19. How horrible! Shame on the process and the inspector. Hope she gets the additional training she needs and the restaurants she’s tried to ruin recover.

  20. Cristina Negrin

    Generous is: No one here has suggested she get fired for abuse of power or something like that. Good for us!

  21. Joshua Stein

    The health inspection data should be online, past and present. Most other cities have it. I am not just talking about a score or grade but specifics as to why there were deductions. Fairfield is adding it any time now. Westport is resisting it or waiting until there is a state-wide implementation “The Director of Health said that it is planned that when the FDA Food Code is implemented, the State Department of Public Health will actually have ratings of restaurants available to view online throughout the entire state of Connecticut. But until then you will have to come in and inquire in person. “