Pignic Pub and Patio Gets Back Its Food Service (Updated)

Image: Pignic Pub and Patio.
Image: Pignic Pub and Patio.
  • Pignic had 22 health code violations and an unpermitted bar in its attic, according to the county. Pignic said the violations were resolved and the attic bar is under review.
  • Records show Washoe County Health District staff referring, via text message, to a constituent as a “moron” during a public meeting.
  • Pignic said that new regulations should not have shut down their previously approved model where customers grill their own meat, but a new variance was recently approved, which again allows patio grilling.
  • The Health District’s public records policy was years out of date and is now being revised by the District Attorney’s Office.

Pignic Pub and Patio’s owner Ryan Goldhammer said last week that food service is back at the pub.

“I still have to jump through hoops, but yes, we have an approved variance and are back open to public grilling,” he said. “(Customers) must bring a receipt (with their) meat in original packaging.”

Customers could bring in their own meat to grill at the pub’s patio, but the Washoe County Health District (WCHD) shut down grilling and other food service in November.

It’s been an ongoing ordeal for months, and Health District officials blamed Pignic for the shutdown.

Kevin Dick
Kevin Dick, Washoe County Health District.

“One of the things required is a certified food protection manager on site, which is a recurring problem (with Pignic),” said Health District Officer Kevin Dick.

The county also found 20 health code violations in February 2017. Most of those were resolved at the time of the inspection or soon thereafter, Goldhammer said.

“That’s of pretty significant concern for us,” Dick added. “What they wanted with their business has changed over time. They’ve wanted to do more food prep themselves. They’ve wanted to rely on the grills for food prep. That requires that they get permitted for temporary permits for events or get permitted as an outdoor food establishment.”

In addition, new food regulations were passed since Pignic opened, putting them out of compliance.

Goldhammer said that they were never notified of the new regulations or workshops, but county health’s public information officer, Phil Ulibarri, disputed this.

“We held several workshops prior to the regulation changes and had at least two WCHD board meetings to discuss the new (regulations) and new service fees associated with food establishments,” he said.

Ulibarri cited ThisisReno’s posting of the announcement of the regulations, in addition to workshops and hearings. He said that several notices were sent to facilities impacted by the new regulations.

The new regulations did not support Pignic’s operation, in place since 2014, which Goldhammer said county officials previously approved.

“The Health District has been working hard to update its food safety program,” Dick explained. “Prior to 2015 we were operating with food safety regulations that dated back 30 years. With the support of the Food and Drug Administration, we were working with updating food safety requirements to make them consistent with state requirements.”

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Dick also said that there’s a question whether Pignic’s original operation should’ve been approved in the first place.

“Certainly with the new regulations it is not allowed,” he said — unless Pignic applies for and gets a variance.

'Prior to 2015 we were operating with food safety regulations that dated back 30 years.' -- Washoe County Health DistrictClick To Tweet

via GIPHY

What Happened Behind the Scenes

Pignic had its variance approved last week in order to continue doing business similar to before. It hired lobbyist Tom Clark to help with the process.

Both sides – Pignic and the Washoe County Health District — were in dispute over the process. Pignic defied its cease-and-desist from the county and allowed food service after it was told not to.

Health officials resorted to name calling and surveilling Pignic’s social media accounts, as well as monitoring Pignic from outside of their operation in order to catch them violating health and safety codes.

Internal emails and texts show Health District staff lining up to defend its shutdown of Pignic.

One example:

“Pignic has two events with food advertised for this week – (an) anniversary celebration (whole pig roast) on 10/21 and PigToberFest (with various bratwursts) on 10/14,” wrote Ellen Messinger-Patton, an environmental health specialist with the Health District. “The screen shots are attached. I have also included a screen shot of the advertisement for the bartending competition this past weekend that includes tacos.

“Let me know how you’d like to proceed,” she wrote in October to health officials Amber English and Tony Macaluso.

After a video interview we did with Pignic in November, Ulibarri transcribed a part of the interview — the portion where Goldhammer admitted food was being served at Pignic after the Health District sent him a cease-and-desist notification.

Ulibarri sent the transcription of the interview to county staff, along with copies of comments made by ThisisReno readers on Facebook.

Chad Westom, director of the environmental health services division, then prompted an inspection by an inspector “not known by Pignic” and possible enforcement action against Pignic’s owner.

“If they are only serving drinks and in compliance, fabulous,” he wrote to his staff. “If there is more suspended food service occurring that should be inconspicuously documented (i.e., cellular pics and ask a couple questions) and then they leave. We will process the evidence on the following Monday with appropriate enforcement action.”

Ulibarri defended the county’s surveillance as being in accordance with state law.

“When we notice violations, we are required to investigate,” he said. “Continued violations would mean more scrutiny until violations are resolved.”

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The video above got the attention of Health District staff, which transcribed a portion of the interview and copied ThisisReno’s reader comments in an email to other staff.

Internal Emails, Texts Show More to The Story

ThisisReno filed a public records order requesting documentation surrounding Pignic’s shutdown.

The Health District’s Chad Westom said that it would cost up to $2,000 to reimburse for staff time to collect the records because the agency is funded by fees.

Text messages show county staff referring to Pignic's representative as "a moron" during a public meeting.
Text messages show county staff referring to Pignic’s representative as “a moron” during a public meeting.

We disputed that. There is no provision in the Nevada Public Records Act to charge for staff time, and the county’s public records request form cited policies that were years out of date and out of compliance with state law.

County Communications Director Nancy Luenhagen has since said that the county is revising its public records policy to make it consistent with the law. It is under review with the District Attorney’s office, she said.

The Health District, through its assistant district attorney, ultimately complied with the public records order.

The records show county staff disputing much of what was said in the video.

“This is pretty good,” staff member Luke Franklin remarked to staff member Dave McNinch about our video. McNinch then forwarded the comment to Charlene Albee, director of the health district’s air quality management division.

Her response: “He really provided an interesting interpretation of the series of events from Friday,” referring to Clark’s attempt to submit an operational plan to the district by a required deadline.

Another interaction: Clark had a text exchange between County Commissioner Kitty Jung, who sits on the district health board.

Clark wrote to Jung: “They operated just fine for three years with no health issues from anyone. It’s frustrating when you work in good faith and then get slapped in the face.”

Not so, said Dick in a rebuttal sent to Jung via text.

“When I left on Thanksgiving vacation … the variance application had still not been submitted,” Dick wrote to his staff. “During this period, more health violations came to light with an unpermitted bar constructed in the attic and failure to pay for renewal of the operating permit of the permitted bar.

“If Mr. Clark wants to assign blame for lost (revenue) and wages he should look no farther than the Pignic owners and himself.”

Westom also noted that “Clark keeps banging his drum, working politics, to get Pignic reinstated prematurely. It’s not going to happen but I’m going to call him; attempt reason.”

Clark attended a health district meeting on Pignic’s behalf. During the meeting, Health District staff were texting one another.

“Pignic is here during open comment,” Macaluso wrote to staffers Dave McNinch and Jim English. “He is asking for the board to rescind the cease and desist. What date did he meet with us?”

McNinch: “October 18.”

English: “He’s a moron.”

Macaluso: “I think it’s a partner or an attorney.”

English: “Same thing.”

McNinch: “The attorney should know the board can’t do anything especially today.”

(English and staffer Luke Franklin were also found, through a prior public records request, to be making light of a raid on Nevada Recycling and Salvage last year as part of a spat with the City of Reno.)

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Westom, who said he was unaware of that exchange, said that behavior would be “followed-up on.”

“Courteous and respectful treatment of coworkers and the public — everybody,” is expected, he said.

Text messages show Washoe County Health District staff referring to Pignic's representative as 'a moron' during a public meeting.Click To Tweet

Pignic Back in Operation

Amber English's memo regarding Pignic.
Amber English’s memo regarding Pignic. Click to read.

Pignic’s bars never shut down, but customers can once again bring in their own meat to grill on the establishment’s outdoor grills.

Despite the ongoing back-and-forth with the Health District, Pignic’s variance was approved in December by district health board and then signed by Kevin Dick.

The county is expected to keep a keen eye on Pignic, something foreshadowed in November.

County health specialist Amber English sent a memo at that time:

“I understand the political influences regarding this issue and realize this is a difficult decision,” she wrote the Westom. “I also realize this decision is out of my control. However, I feel the need to reiterate my concerns from a public health perspective.

“I also have concerns whether or not political influences will intervene when we find the facility is not meeting the conditions of the variance and staff is put in the difficult situation of suspending a permit or taking action to rescind the variance if approved.

“The Health District has been supportive of establishments that apply for waivers and variances from code requirements for emerging activities as long as they realistically ensure controls are in place to protect public health…”

Meantime: “They’ve gotten their permit back and approval of variance so they can be innovative with their business model,” Westom said. “That allows them to not fully comply with the regulations, but there are other steps and monitoring so that the customers and public will be safe.”

CORRECTION (1/26/18): The original story identified District Health Officer Kevin Dick as texting his staff. The correct individual, confirmed today by Health District staff, was Tony Macaluso. The notations have been corrected.

District staff also dispute that it was their public records policy that was out of date. They said they were following Washoe County’s public records policy.

About Bob Conrad 900 Articles
Bob Conrad is co-founder of ThisisReno. He manages ThisisReno and Conrad Communications, LLC, his marketing communications consulting company (disclosure: he has two part-time contracts working for the University of Nevada, Reno). He is a part-time faculty member at Truckee Meadows Community College and is a regular contributor to Reno Public Radio.

6 Comments

  1. Dear Mr. Conrad,
    Your January 22, 2018 This is Reno article, “Pignic Pub and Patio Get’s Back Its Food Service” contained erroneous content that requires correction.
    You stated, “The Health District’s public records policy was years out of date and is now being revised by the District Attorney’s Office.” This is not the case, in reality it is Washoe County’s public records policy that is being vetted, not a policy created by the Health District.
    You also state, “Both sides – Pignic and the Washoe County Health District — were in dispute over the process.” Again, this is not the case. The Health District has never disputed the regulatory processes. The process for food permitting and inspections is consistent across the board for all food service operators in the Health District. Hundreds of operators in our county follow the Health District’s regulations and work effectively with our health inspectors throughout the permitting and inspection process. Clearly the party disputing the process are the operators of Pignic who violated a Cease and Desist order, and were non-compliant with a score of health code violations, which although you had access to in your public records request, you failed to fully expound upon in your story.
    Finally, your attribution of statements in a text string to Health Officer Kevin Dick is erroneous and contrary to information provided to you by Washoe County Deputy District Attorney Leslie Admirand. In her email to you the Deputy District Attorney indicates who sent and received the texts in question, and it is clearly not the Health Officer. Please retract the statements regarding the Health Officer’s participation in the text string, the attributions, and provide a correction that he was not involved in or privy to these texts.

    Thank you.

    Phillip Ulibarri, CCPH
    Communications Manager | Washoe County Health District

    • Phil,

      1. Whether it’s the health district’s policy or the county’s seems to be splitting hairs. The request form came from you, and your team attempted to enforce an out-of-date policy despite being told it was out of date. You’ll also recall that I had to make the request not once or twice, but three times because you failed to provide the information in the first and second attempts. Fortunately, the article correctly notes that the county is taking on the issue.
      2. It very much was in dispute, as noted in English’s memo and Dick’s direct statement to me about whether Pignic should have been approved in the first place.
      3. Both sides — Pignic and Chad Westom — said that the 22 violations from nearly a year ago were resolved to satisfaction, which is why more detail was not included. Nevertheless, Dick’s statements were included front-and-center, and the violations were noted in the first text of the story, including the supporting quote about why from Dick.
      4. I am happy to make a correction on who said what in the texts if you can provide that information. It was not clear from the documents provided as to which text string started where, not to mention some of the identifying information was deliberately redacted. Even Admirand wasn’t clear on who was included on one of the texts. Please let me know which specific names need changing and I’ll make the necessary correction.

      Thanks for the comment.
      Bob

  2. Things I didn’t see in the article.

    1. Actual regulations that they are currently violating but have a variance for.
    2. Actual Public Health issue at stake?
    3. Solutions for the business model to succeed under the current regulations that have been offered by the city to Pignic.
    4. Explanation of why enforcement has actually been applied at such a level only recently. The tone of the article gives the impression that the situation is bordering or even full-blown harassment.
    5. The text quote ““During this period, more health violations came to light with an unpermitted bar constructed in the attic and failure to pay for renewal of the operating permit of the permitted bar.” has been a rumor that I have heard around town. Is this confirmed as true with the owners of Pignic?

    If you have answers to any of these questions I would love to hear them. If not, I totally understand that getting this kind of information is a lot of work.

    Thanks for the great information though. This is the first I have heard about them being open back up for grilling.

    • Robert, I’ve forwarded your first three questions to the health district for a more informed response.

      #4 It appears Pignic has been on the county’s radar for some time. There were documented violations nearly a year ago. Goldhammer said it was retribution; the health district claims they were legitimate violations.

      #5 Pignic’s representative said they have an unpermitted bar that they are working with officials to resolve, and yes, it appears there was a failure to renew the permitted for the regular bar.

      Unfortunately, the restaurant inspection database isn’t very robust; nevertheless, here are the results of inspections from 2017: https://www.washoecounty.us/health/food-inspections.php?type=inspections&q=F140409#facilities_results

      And here: https://www.washoecounty.us/health/food-inspections.php?type=inspections&q=F140408#facilities_results

      I should also note that Pignic is not the only operation to be shutdown or nearly shutdown because of the regulation changes. Though the Health District says it conducted adequate outreach in preparation for the changes, some in the community dispute this to be the case.

      Thanks for the comment.
      Bob

      • Thank you very much for that follow-up. Excellent reporting. Very disappointed in the response about seeking a consultant. It seems the business model is fine for anybody entering a park with grills already installed, but God forbid we have a business offer something similar for-profit and employment of local people.

        Again thank you very much for the info.

Comments are closed.