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County shuts down Steamboat’s Sweet Pea Market and Cafe

County Board of Health revokes market and cafe’s license until Nov. 15





Sweet Pea Market and Cafe clerk Katie Stassen checks out customer Molly Waters after Tuesday's decision by county officials to revoke the retail food establishment license for Sweet Pea. The decision means the popular downtown business will have to close its doors until at least Nov. 15
John F. Russell

— County officials revoked the retail food establishment license for Sweet Pea Market and Cafe on Tuesday, closing the popular downtown business until at least Nov. 15 after repeated inspections, warnings and fines for health code violations this summer.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners, acting as the Routt County Board of Health, made its unanimous ruling at the end of a quasi-judicial hearing in the Routt County Courthouse.

Mike Zopf, director of the Routt County Environmental Health Department, showed the Board of Health documentation of six notifications of non-compliance and six follow-up inspections at Sweet Pea between July 6 and Aug. 26. The department assessed civil penalties of $1,000 each to Sweet Pea owners Jonathon Hieb and Katherine Zambrana on July 28, Aug. 6 and Aug. 20. All three penalties have been paid.

While some state health code violations arose during the inspections — and several of those were corrected immediately or before a follow-up inspection, according to county documents — the primary violation that led to the fines and Tuesday's hearing involved the cafe's seating capacity of about 60 on its deck on the Yampa River.

Although Sweet Pea's grocery market operates separately from its cafe, the business, as a whole, uses one food establishment license, meaning the entire business shut down as of midnight this morning, when the revocation became effective.

"I was expecting to shut down, (but) I wasn't expecting to get shut down for two months, and I definitely wasn't expecting the market to get shut down, as well," Hieb said. "We're completely out of business right now."

Hieb said Sweet Pea will try to sell off its remaining produce at its stand in west Steamboat.

"We are still able to sell farm fresh produce at the stand down at the Ace at the Curve, and we're going to have a big huge sale down there the next few days," Hieb said.

That stand, outside the hardware store on Steamboat Springs' west side, will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the next several days, he said.

The business at 729 Yampa St. operated most of summer with more customer seating than state regulations allow for a food establishment with only one bathroom. Food establishments are required to have more than one bathroom — at least one for each sex — if seating exceeds 15.

Routt County senior environmental health specialist Heather Savalox notified Hieb of that regulation in a letter dated May 20. The letter gave the department's approval of renovations to Sweet Pea's cafe, contingent on seating of no more than 15 and compliance with regulations involving sinks and drainage.

Savalox has said the renovation application she received "did not indicate anything like" Sweet Pea's expanded deck and seating area along the river.

Savalox said she later heard the business had more seating than allowed and saw the noncompliance during a June 22 visit. Sweet Pea had more than 10 multiseat tables on its deck.

Zopf and Carl Dunham, of the Routt County Regional Building Department, said Sweet Pea now is in compliance with bathroom and sink regulations.

Dunham said his department did the final inspection of the second bathroom Sept. 7.

Although Hieb said Tuesday that the bathroom addition took much longer than he expected, largely because of architectural and plumbing hurdles, Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak noted that he could have achieved compliance at any time simply by reducing the number of seats.

"He chose not to take it back to 15 seats," Stahoviak said, calling it a business decision. "I personally would not be comfortable with anything less than 60 days suspension of the license."

The Board of Health ultimately decided to revoke Sweet Pea's license, rather than issue a 60-day suspension. The revocation requires Hieb and Zambrana to meet all building and health requirements through the re-application process.

The ruling stipulated that Sweet Pea cannot be issued a new license until Nov. 15.

Dunham said Sweet Pea also must reach compliance on building code violations including proper exits for occupancy levels. Renovations including walk-in coolers in the basement have been done without permits, Dunham said.

Hieb repeatedly has said since the issues arose in June that he intends to reach compliance with all county regulations.

"We will do everything it takes to get this up to code and in compliance," he said Tuesday. "From here on out, I'm not going to do anything without a sit-down meeting" with county officials.

Zambrana reiterated their focus on compliance Tuesday.

"In the next two months, we're going to be doing construction on the building to be in compliance," she said after the hearing. "We're soaking it all in right now — we did not expect this to happen right away."

Zopf said that Routt County has more than 250 food establishments and his department conducts more than 200 inspections each year.

Zopf said the license revocation is a unique incident in his experience in Routt County.

"We have never before recommended that a retail food license be suspended or revoked until (Tuesday)," Zopf said.

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com