The West Tisbury selectmen had stern words for the owners of State Road Restaurant this week over special permit violations and a failed health inspection in connection with an unlicensed prep kitchen.
A basement space that was allowed to be used for refrigeration and storage of beer and wine and dry goods had been turned into a prep kitchen with plumbing. The kitchen was flagged by health inspectors during a routine inspection on August 13. Restaurant owners Jackson and Mary Kenworth will be fined $1,600 by the town building department for violating their special permit.
Mr. Kenworth attended the meeting and said the kitchen has since been shut down and the plumbing shut off. Mr. Kenworth apologized to the board and said the kitchen had been used as an adjunct work space for the restaurant’s burgeoning use of local farms and fishermen for its farm-to-table menu. The space was used for cleaning and preparing vegetables, fish and meat.
“I’m very sorry, we’re in the wrong,” Mr. Kenworth said. “The reason we’re using that space, which I can see that we’re in violation of, is because there is not enough adequate space [in the main kitchen] to do breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“We’re doing everything we can to rectify the situation,” he added.
Selectmen Richard Knabel and Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter III chastised Mr. Kenworth for the violations.
“Why do you think you didn’t need any permits to do this work, especially given the provisions of the special permit?” Mr. Knabel asked.
“To me it’s not a misunderstanding of the regulation, I’m going to be really blunt, it’s a blatant violation,” Mr. Manter said. “The slightest violations, intentional or unintentional, I will not tolerate any further."
The selectmen considered suspending or revoking the restaurant’s beer and wine license, but in the end took no action. Under the town beer and wine regulations, the selectmen have the authority to act on the license if any town bylaw or ordinance is violated. Selectman Cynthia Mitchell advocated against that approach. “It’s fair to say there’s a zoning violation,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “I think State Road is cooperating to the maximum extent on this, having essentially admitted the wrongdoing. I don’t think this rises to the level of revocation or suspension of their beer and wine license.”
Located in the mixed use business and residential stretch of North Tisbury, State Road opened in 2009. A special permit was needed because the new building was sited on a pre-existing nonconforming lot. The popular restaurant focuses its menu on locally-sourced food. It is one of the spots frequented by the Obamas when they vacation on the Vineyard.
When town health agent John Powers found the unpermitted kitchen, he notified the Kenworths that they were in violation of the special permit and in violation of the state food code that requires pre-approval of plans to be submitted to the board of health prior to building a facility.
Mr. Powers also notified building inspector Ernest Mendenhall.
“The board of health said they failed the health inspection because things were there that were not permitted,” Mr. Mendenhall said. “The special permit [violation] as far as I’m concerned was pretty definite . . . there was an awful lot of unpermitted work.”
Mr. Mendenhall has since issued a permit to disconnect plumbing that was installed without permission.
Mr. Kenworth said the restaurant will not appeal the building inspector’s ruling but will apply to the zoning board of appeals to amend the special permit to allow the restaurant to use the space.
Meanwhile, without the prep space, the restaurant will no longer serve breakfast and lunch for now. Mr. Kenworth said they may have to cut back on the amount of local produce, fish and meat they use.
“We will try to remain as local as possible, but given the space in the kitchen upstairs opposite the dining room, there’s not enough space to bring in a 45-pound striped bass and fillet it, and do lunch and breakfast service,” he said. “There’s not enough space for us to scramble eggs and fillet a striped bass.”
Mr. Knabel advised Mr. Kenworth “to proceed post haste” with the zoning board.
“It’s just really not an acceptable way to treat the town, a town that has worked quite hard to get your business started and make it successful,” he said. “We’re all sorry for this situation.”