Is it a tempest in a teapot? Or a storm in a coffee mug?
While many Spokane County espresso stands are hooked up to water and sewer services, some are not. Food safety inspectors are beginning to enforce rules requiring such hookups, which has some java hut owners steaming.
Enforcement started earlier this year during annual inspections by the Spokane Regional Health District. About 28 espresso stands requested waivers of the rules and have been denied, said health district chief Dr. Kim Thorburn. The stands’ operating permits are in jeopardy.
It would cost stand owner Linda Wohlers at least $3,500 for the underground sewage holding tank the health district wants her to install at Para-Dice Espresso, 13112 E. Sprague.
The stand now has three sinks, a pressurized water system and a portable holding tank to collect leftover coffee, water and milk dumped into the sinks, Wohlers said. The portable holding tank is dumped at a recreational vehicle site every couple of weeks.
“I can’t get a straight answer for why it isn’t in accordance with the rules,” Wohlers said. Her request for a variance was denied, as was her appeal of that denial. “They need to have regulations, but I think they need to be reasonable.”
Todd Rattray’s Astro Bar is inside Eastern Washington University’s Spokane Center at 705 W. First. He was able to persuade the health district that his stand can be licensed as a “mobile unit” instead of a “limited restaurant.” That will allow him to continue to dump his wastewater in the building’s basement commissary.
His appeal is the only successful one so far, Thorburn said.
Now the board that oversees the health district has told health chief Thorburn to ease up.
“We’re just making it difficult to operate and be in business in America,” said health board member Phil Harris during a meeting Thursday.
The board voted unanimously to direct Thorburn, in the words of board member Al French’s motion, “to exercise discretion in issuing waivers so we are not in a position of putting businesses out of business.”
Thorburn said that when espresso stands first started popping up, nobody knew how to classify them, so they were called “mobile units,” even though they didn’t move. They weren’t required to be plumbed into sewer systems.
Now, health officials statewide have agreed to a new interpretation of rules: The stands are “limited restaurants” and require hookups.
In Spokane County, their annual license fees will rise by about $25 to $175.
Brewed Awakenings owner Linda Gilroy said her stands at 2103 N. Division and 601 N. Mullan are hooked up to sewer and water. She said she favors the enforcement.
“It’s going to help (other espresso stand owners),” she said. “It will help them keep things clean.”
At Thursday’s health board meeting, it was board member Kate McCaslin who first charged the new requirements would put stand owners out of business.
“How many food-related illnesses have we had related to espresso stands?” McCaslin asked.
“We don’t know,” responded Thorburn.
“That means none,” McCaslin said.
After the meeting, Thorburn said the board’s vote will not change what she does. She already exercises discretion, she said.
“It’s what I do,” she said.