Monday, May 19, 2008

you can't fight city hall

...or so the saying goes. i'm not sure the etymology of that saying, but the meaning is clearer to me these days in my long odyssey to become a law-abiding member of the san antonio business community.

mostly my frustrations come from what appears to me as a bunch of folks mired in thick bureaucracy of regulations and of mind. i guess you can get so stuck in a rut of how things have always been that it gets difficult to see past that.

the five regular readers of this blog are familiar with my journey to get my permits for our new roasterie. the good news is that we have not been asked to stop doing what we're (already) doing by the city until we come into compliance. the bad news is the list often seems to grow longer with each visit and concordant sign off by some city official, rather than shorter.

case in point: the health department. faithful readers of this blog will note some months back my complaint that caused me to have to spend $500 on a sink to wash a $5 scooping pitcher. another item on that list that the health department left with me that day was to have smooth drop ceiling tiles (i.e., impervious to moisture accumulation) over said sink area because of the possibility of moisture from the sink (that is used when i wash out that scoop once a week or whatever) creating mold spots overhead. no problem. some of the tiles in our place are actually already of the smooth variety of which they speak. i could simply trade out the ones over the sink and have done with it.

not so fast, say they of the department of health. when i arranged to have our final inspection with them, they (after two appointments, mind you, made by me and two no-shows, no-calls by them) said i need to replace ALL of the tiles overhead anywhere "food is being prepared," meaning basically over 3/4 of the roasterie. this is because, again, of the "moisture problem" as they were wont to call it. being the tightwad (and cynic) that i am, i naturally took it upon myself to gain some clarification from them as to exactly what moisture they considered to be a problem in a roasting business that has as one of its main necessities the consistent absence of excess moisture. i refrained from pointing out that the only real moisture in this place came from the item they insisted i purchase and install: the sink. further, i felt i needed some focus as to how moisture was such a problem in a roasting operation when roasters, by explicit design, are meant to eliminate what little moisture the food (in our case, coffee beans) have, on the way to a completely dry product. roasting, by definition, i explained, is the very process of going the opposite way of moist. "kind of like peanuts," i offered, which is more or less how i view my scenario, i explained, seeing how most of the time i feel as though i work for them (peanuts, that is). blank stare from behind glassy eyes. the inspector's sense of humor was about as dry as, well, about as dry as the atmosphere here in the roasterie, i guess. but no matter. off to the nearest home improvement store i would now have to go to buy the outrageously expensive, super-deluxe, ultra-dry, moisture fighting ceiling tiles. cha-ching. down the drain go a few hundred more bucks.

then the inspection wraps. the inspector writes up my to-do list (again with me getting the feeling of my list growing longer rather than shorter) and the bill at the bottom of the form to get my permits comes to an additional several hundred bucks. when i inquire as to the nature of these extra, unmentioned-until-now costs, the inspector blithely quipped, "oh, that's for your food permit."

me: [insert sound of needle screeching on vinyl] "my what?"

them: "your food permit...so you can serve coffee."

me: "er, but we...don't...serve 'coffee' here. we sell coffee beans here. no liquids."

them: "yes, but this is a coffeehouse and you'll need a food permit to serve coffee here."

me: "er, actually it's a coffee roasting company. we have no plans to serve any liquid coffee or any other foods at this place--only to roast coffee and sell whole bean coffee here."

them: "right. that's why you need a permit."

me: "why again?"

them: "because you're serving food."

me: [in my quiet but firm voice, trying to crack the syllogism] "ma'am, i'm not trying to be insolent here, but i just want to understand and to be understood. we're not actually serving food. we're selling food people take home to serve themselves. the whole reason you don't see any tables and chairs and local art on the walls and cups and lids, or hear jazz playing in the background and stuff like that is because, as per the state guidelines, whole bean coffee is not considered a food because you can't immediately consume it on the premises after purchase. we purposely are not a coffeehouse because we wanted to avoid these very detailed and unnecessary (and expensive) food inspections. however, i hear you saying that i need to get a food permit anyway despite what the state tells me, and honestly, that's a little bit perplexing to me because it seems to countermand the explicit state descriptions on what is and is not considered a food, let alone add an exceeding amount of frustration to my whole business planning process. we've been very purposeful in our plans and frankly all of this stuff turns it on its ear."

them: "well, sir, i can see your frustration and i'm sorry for that. but rules are rules. don't shoot the messenger. i'm just doing my job."

me: "i can see that. well, alright, hit me with the to-do list and the bill, i guess."


and that was that. you. can't. fight. city. hall.

i guess i'll head down there soon, pay for my permits, arrange to have my new space shuttle ceiling tiles inspected, and, whilst i'm there, invite everyone down there to come visit us and get a drink at the grand opening of our new coffeehouse. i mean, if you can't beat 'em...make lemonade [?] or some such saying like that.

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2 Comments:

At Wednesday, 21 May, 2008, Blogger Jason Haeger said...

Frustrating though it may be, this could be the city's way of making your dreams of a non-espresso brewed coffee bar come true.

Perhaps sooner than planned, but I, for one, am jazzed about the prospect of this concept potentially coming to fruition.

Best of luck with the rest of this mess. City inspectors are the bane of small business owners everywhere.

 
At Wednesday, 21 May, 2008, Blogger steve said...

Man I feel your pain. We were lucky with our environmental health officer he didn't understand what we were doing so he came and sat down for a few hours with me while I explained it to him, and this was good enough to see what we were doing make the occasional bit of advice (we also had a sink thing like you).

But I'm looking forward to coming in one day and buying and espresso from you with your food permit :)

 

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