Steamboat’s Sweet Pea working through compliance process
Cafe requires 2nd restroom to meet state regulation
July 11, 2010
Steamboat Springs — The popular Sweet Pea Market and Cafe appears to be doing brisk business with its fresh foods, new menu items and an expanded deck this summer — but customers might want to use the bathroom before stopping by.
The downtown Steamboat Springs business, at 729 Yampa St. along the Yampa River, currently has more customer seating than state regulations allow for a food establishment with only one bathroom. Sweet Pea owners Jonathon Hieb and Katherine Zambrana are working through the compliance process with county officials — and Hieb stressed that it's been a positive collaborative effort — but they likely will delay installation of a second bathroom until after the busy summer season, choosing instead to pay a fine of as much as $1,000.
Mike Zopf, director of the Routt County Environmental Health Department, said department staff is inspecting Sweet Pea every 10 days to document the continued noncompliance, which causes the financial penalty to increase with time. Zopf said his department, following state protocol, has the authority to assess three fines in a year, meaning Sweet Pea could pay as much as $3,000.
But the situation doesn't appear likely to progress that far. Hieb said he intends to comply with the state regulation — after the summer.
"Is it worth me staying open with more seats and paying the fine, or is it worth me cutting back and complying until I get all this construction done?" Hieb asked rhetorically Friday. "And that's just a matter of crunching the numbers."
Summer months are crucial moneymakers for many Steamboat businesses.
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"We know how short the summers are here," Hieb said. "It's primetime, especially for Sweet Pea."
Hieb said he is working with an architect and Carl Dunham of the Routt County Regional Building Department on plans for the new bathroom. Dunham was out of the office and could not be reached for this story.
The market and cafe underwent significant renovation before opening for the summer. Heather Savalox, county environmental health specialist, said Hieb's April application for a plan review included 15 seats in a "grab-and-go" format — Sweet Pea's seating in front of the business, along Yampa Street.
"They were approved for that specific application May 25," Savalox said.
Fifteen seats is the state's limit for a food establishment with one bathroom.
Savalox said the application she received "did not indicate anything like" Sweet Pea's expanded deck and seating area along the river.
"Then I heard that there was more seating over there," Savalox said. She went to check it out June 22 and saw the noncompliance. Sweet Pea has more than 10 multiseat tables on its deck.
Hieb acknowledged that timeline but said the situation was simply "a communication breakdown" after plans changed for Sweet Pea's renovations.
"When we originally were going to do this, we thought it was going to be a small grab-and-go type … and when we got going, we realized it wasn't," he said. "I am trying to take steps to make this right … and (county officials) are working with me."
Rumors have been circulating in Steamboat about Sweet Pea having to temporarily close or reduce staff amid heavy-handed tactics from officials. Hieb praised the collaboration of building and environmental health staff and emphasized that it's been a positive compliance process. He said Sweet Pea has 22 employees between the market and cafe.
"The biggest stressor for me … was these employees," he said. "The last thing you want to do is start laying people off."
Zopf said inspectors in his department have a relationship with more than 200 food establishments in Routt County. He noted that Sunpie's Bistro, next door to Sweet Pea, previously had to add a second bathroom because of its seating capacity.
"We want nothing more than for every establishment and operator to be successful," Zopf said. "But everybody's got to play by the rules."