Burger Continental Accused of Polluting City’s Stormwater

The restaurant remains closed for health code violations; it failed the latest inspection Thursday evening

Published : Friday, September 6, 2013 | 4:31 AM

After being issued thousands of dollars in fines, the owners of Burger Continental received a final warning Thursday about illegally discharging polluted water into the city’s public storm drains.

The decision from the Pasadena Code Enforcement Commission comes one week after the restaurant was shut down by city officials for serious health code violations and then cited by police for reopening without authorization.

The iconic Mediterranean-American restaurant – located at 535 S. Lake Ave. – will remain closed at least through this weekend after health inspectors determined Thursday the establishment is still not fit to reopen.

The restaurant’s troubles began March 21 when the city received a complaint that soapy water was pouring from the restaurant’s property into a gutter that feeds into the municipal stormwater system. Compliance Officer Robert Froehlich did not observe any violation at that time but presented restaurant owner Garabet Hindoyan with a brochure highlighting best management practices for restaurant operations.

In an inspection seven days later, Froehlich observed employees washing down the patio area and causing water with debris to pour into the stormwater gutter. A warning letter was mailed to Hindoyan.

Froehlich alleges he observed soapy water with debris entering the drain during six inspections on different dates – the most recent on July 26. The restaurant was issued five citations and escalating fines that totaled $2,921.

Harry Hindoyan, who is a part owner of the business and the brother of Garabet Hindoyan, told the commission Thursday that the restaurant has been in Pasadena 43 years. While saying he takes the accusations very seriously, Hindoyan argued the fines were “a little bit excessive” given the state of the economy.

“I’m not here to dispute anything. That’s not my job,” he said. “I’m very proud my city. I’m very proud to be in my city.”
Hindoyan explained that the property has two drains that go to the sewer and one that goes to the stormwater system, and employees may have been confused about which drain to use. He said their employees are now instructed to use water without soap and sweep before mopping the floor.

“We mop the floor rather than washing the floor,” he said. “It doesn’t look good, but we try to maintain it as much as we can to keep the place clean.”

The commissioners were satisfied that the issues have been addressed but also ordered a couple more inspections to ensure compliance. The commissioners do not have the authority to reduce or waive fines, but they briefly considered a formal recommendation that the fines be reduced.

“We’d like to thank you and your family for the contribution you’ve made to the city of Pasadena,” Commissioner Robert Clinton said. “You’re a landmark restaurant, and we’ve all enjoyed many meals there and hope to again.”

Despite those kind words, city officials said that polluting the water puts the city in jeopardy due to the federal Clean Water Act. Any future violation would result in misdemeanor charges rather than administrative citations, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

The more immediate concern for the Hindoyans is getting into compliance with the Pasadena Health Department.

Following an inspection Aug. 28, the restaurant was cited for violating 26 different city health codes after inspectors allegedly found cockroaches, unclean food preparation surfaces and other unsanitary conditions.

Pasadena Public Health Director Eric Walsh said they returned to the restaurant a day after shutting them down and found people in the kitchen preparing food. They called the police department, which issued a citation.

“This never would have gotten to this point if they stayed shut down and fixed everything,” Walsh said.

Liza Frias, the city’s environmental health division manager, returned to the restaurant Thursday afternoon.

“They’ve made significant progress, but unfortunately, it’s still not enough for us to be able to say we’re confident in allowing them to reopen,” she said. “We will be back within a week or so to make sure they’re consistently maintaining not only the level of sanitation but also ensuring all their employees are properly handling the food.”

Hindoyan declined to answer questions from a reporter following the code enforcement hearing.