Beyond that, Bonanno insists that all of the salumi products served at Osteria Marco were sourced through outside purveyors, and says he produced the invoices to prove it. Nonetheless, the inspector pressed Koelliker, who admitted that, in fact, there was a salumi room above Bones, Bonanno's Asian noodle restaurant located between Mizuna and Luca D'Italia. "As soon as Burton told them that we had a salumi room, the inspectors bolted. All of a sudden, the alleged norovirus at Osteria was no longer important," Bonanno recalls.

"This was all a ruse to find my meat-and-cheese room," he continues. "Six, maybe seven, inspectors showed up at Bones in early April, several days after the outbreak, and demanded access to my private offices. For the past five years, my company — Bonanno Concepts — has leased those offices, so technically they aren't a part of any of my restaurants." Bonanno even pointed to his lease to defend that position, but because of the office's proximity to the commercial kitchens for Luca and Bones, "it didn't matter," he adds.

Inside the salumi locker above Bones, the inspectors found a few hundred pounds of prosciutto, pancetta, coppa, guanciale, sopressata and more. "Bones has never once served one piece of salumi, nor was anything in my locker ever served at Luca," insists Bonanno. "My salumi habit is a hobby, and I use it strictly for personal reasons — when I have dinner parties at my house or want to give it away as gifts — and it seemed easier, cleaner and more sanitary to use a commercial kitchen rather than my house." The locker was temperature-controlled at 62 degrees, with 60 percent humidity, which was "exactly what it should be," he says. Even so, Bonanno was forced to discard every last ounce of meat.

This wasn't the first time that Bonanno had faced an inquiry about his meat-curing processes. In December 2008, just a few weeks before he opened Bones, he'd received a cease-and-desist order from the City of Denver that forced him to temporarily suspend his house-cured meat operation, then located in the basement of Luca, after an inspection determined that his air-cured meats were stored at an improper temperature — 68 degrees rather than 41 degrees, the temperature required by law. Lee says Bonanno was warned that unless he had an approved Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points plan approved by the city to ensure food-safety management, his meat-curing activities would remain an illegal endeavor.

While the meat was hitting the dumpster, a female employee at Osteria Marco suffering from diarrhea had agreed to submit a stool sample, which was tested for norovirus. The CDPHE came back with its result: negative. Three days later, on April 4, Osteria was again reinspected, and two additional employees — both food handlers who "reported symptoms consistent with norovirus," according to the city's report — submitted rectal swabs. Again, those samples tested negative for norovirus.

"It's unfortunate as we are not able to have confirmation of the suspected pathogen," Vu wrote in an April 9 e-mail to a department supervisor.

In fact, Bonanno's meats were never identified as the cause of the outbreak — and nor, for that matter, was anything else that was served to the 22 Osteria Marco guests and employees who ultimately complained about being sick. And Osteria Marco was never closed during the investigation. "Measures were put in place to protect public health, which enabled the facility to continue to operate," explains Lee.

Today, the cause of the problem remains undetermined — although the department remains reluctant to give Bonanno a complete pass. "It's possible that a customer could have initially introduced the illness to the facility," concedes McDonald. "The investigation revealed that the presence of ill employees, poor hand washing by employees and bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods by employees played a substantive role in the spread of the illness via food or via contaminated environmental services in the facility."

Osteria Marco, he maintains, was the only restaurant where there was a "common point of exposure for all of the ill individuals."

And the symptoms, McDonald stresses, were absolutely indicative of norovirus. "There was a preponderance of evidence that led us to believe it was norovirus," he says. "We matched up symptomatology with the food that was consumed at Osteria Marco, along with the incubation period, and by looking at those parameters, we can nail down what the source is."

While Bonanno wasn't fined for the outbreak itself, he was smacked with a $500 fine for several violations documented during the March 29 investigation. He later appealed the fine, which was reduced to $350 by a hearings officer.

**********

The relationship between the city's health department and its restaurants was not always this sour.

"Fifteen, twenty years ago, a health inspector would walk into a restaurant, ask to talk to the person in charge, and they'd walk around the restaurant together to determine areas for improvement," recalls Pete Meersman, president and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association, which today includes 771 Denver restaurants in its membership. "An inspector might determine that a water glass couldn't be on the shelf because if it spilled, it had a slight potential of falling into a pot of something and making someone potentially sick, and if something like that happened, the violation would still be written up, but there would be a conversation between the manager, chef, operator, whomever, and it would be educational."

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20 comments
myliberalbias
myliberalbias

I'm on Frank's side, but he's got one thing a little bit wrong. Norovirus is not really an airborne illness. While one can technically contract the disease by having the "spray" from an infected patient land in one's mouth, it's usually transmitted by hand. Fecal-oral. An infected person fails to properly wash his/her hands, touches an object that is then touched by another. Here's the problem. An infected person can shed the virus for up to two weeks and no employee at a restaurant is going to stay home for two weeks. And even someone who tries to wash properly can make the mistake of touching a faucet handle after using the restroom and touching the (now infected) handle again after washing. Plus, it takes very little virus to pass it along and the bug is not easily killed. Bleach will do it. Purell and Clorox wipes won't. So you see, it's an incredibly difficult germ to control. That's why proper use of gloves is essential in preventing infection. Again, I'm on Frank's side. I say let him have his secret meat lockers. But unless you know HOW norovirus is spread, you can't really know how to prevent its spread. Have a nice day.

Cook1
Cook1

I guarantee the campylobacter at strings was from Ryan Taylors house made cheese.

seejohnedrum
seejohnedrum

Two changes in the last decade have made it much harder on restaurants.  Cold holding temperatures went from 44f to 41f and 5 years ago we eliminated handling of prepared foods.  At the same time, the old inspectors were retiring and the 24 year old kids were filling their spots.  The young up-starts are trying to make their mark by holding the line while not understanding the nuances of food service.  For example, a seasoned inspector knows that a properly operating cooler during a busy period may be a few degrees warm while no danger exists.  Many young inspectors write violations (critical ones) for minor temperature deviations during peek hours.  Any hand contact by personnel is reported and paid for. If a server adjusts a garnish before serving, she is endangering the public.  Balderdash.  Did you know that the most common critical violation pertains to a restaurants hand washing sink.  In order the establish the importance of washing hands The B of H established the sanctity of the hand washing sink decades ago.  God forbid someone fill their water glass or empty anything into the hand washing sink.  The other big ticket getter is the employee drink and personal effects category  Don't you dare put your diet shake in the walk in or have your soda within an eye shot of anything served. I never fight the B of H but I can't wait for the new crop, to catch on.

theglobalguy
theglobalguy

So what ever happened to the El Diablo story?  That one just dropped dead...no follow up, nothing after the owner appealed the closure.  Did WW ever try to see what happened?

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

 *** REGULATION WORKS !! ***

hollyjarmstrong
hollyjarmstrong

This also highlights why restaurants should be required to provide sick leave and health benefits to their workers (in addition to increasing base wage to at least minimum wage). Passing norovirus (or other illnesses) will never be completely eliminated but we can certainly help minimize the risk if we make sure workers are not cooking or serving food when they are sick. Many of these workers cannot afford to stay home so they buck up and go to work.

sexyfood
sexyfood

Mchalmers is obviously someone with the health department. Why not come clean about who you are? Easier to hide behind your sterile cubicle? Coward.

mchalmers
mchalmers

Actually if she knew anything current about the situation, she would know that the HD has become MUCH more lenient with restaurants and the new approach to the fines system

mchalmers
mchalmers

Lori was not invited to the recent restaurant/health department meeting, being that she just writes about the food industry.

Frank did not attend, but if he did, he would've been politely asked to keep the conversations between the two private. I'm sure it was Lori who thought she should write something.

atomicspice
atomicspice

I've never been a Frank Bonanno fan, but after reading this, I'm impressed with what he's doing to stand up to the health department. He comes across as likable, smart and cooperative with minimal arrogance. The health department is a menace and seems to definitely have an agenda that goes way beyond standard restaurant inspections. Great writing, informative and thought provoking.

JamesB7
JamesB7

Great story. Thanks...

bobbypinz
bobbypinz

Obviously oldnews didn't read the whole story. Cause that's what it says...that they're working together. And better grab a dictionary for all those tough words. Like "members". The article is brilliant and points out some of the flaws in a system rife with bureaucracy. Just ask any restaurant owner!

oldnews
oldnews

Lori, way to bring up old shit.   Currently the health deparment is working with memebers of Colorado Restaurant Assocaition to make sure they everything is well known between both parties and so that we can work amicably together to make sure that food regulations are resonable and followed.  

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@hollyjarmstrong ... you'll no doubt eagerly pay HIGHER PRICES for your restaurant outings to cover the cost and expense of Sick Leave and Health Benefits, right?

seejohnedrum
seejohnedrum

@mchalmers Wrong.  New regulations come down all the time.  Holding temps change as do accepted procedures.  Denver has gotten much stricter.  I know.  10 years ago everything was made by un-gloved hands.  Folks like you go to Starbucks with the fucking Flu but freak out if your server has a slight sniffle.

LoriMidsonCafeSociety
LoriMidsonCafeSociety moderator editortopcommenter

@mchalmers You're right -- I was not invited to that meeting (my understanding is that no press was invited). And that specific meeting to which you refer, and which took place just a few months ago, isn't mentioned anywhere in my story.

LoriMidsonCafeSociety
LoriMidsonCafeSociety moderator editortopcommenter

@oldnews As the commenter above you pointed out, it would behoove you to read the entire story, which makes it crystal clear that restaurateurs, the CRA and the health department are making strides in working amicably with one another.

 
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