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17 Cuisine had a short life in Elkhart County and won't be coming back.
In a Dec. 7 email to the Elkhart County Health Department, Becca Cornell told Mike Hoover that it is closed.
Hoover, who oversees the food program for the health department's Environmental Health Division, said he would close the file and void the license.
He wished Cornell and her husband, Darren, good luck with their future endeavors.
But if they wanted to open another restaurant in Elkhart County, it would prompt further consideration by the health department rather than an immediate approval.
“This would have to be discussed with my manager and health officer,” Hoover said last week. He said if they applied, he would take it to Karla Kreczmer and Dr. Dan Nafziger for a decision.
The health department didn't close 17 Cuisine at any point, but visited it several times.
The restaurant opened following an inspection on Oct. 4, according to documents obtained from the health department. The Cornells, who had operated DC's Pizza and DC's Burgers, worked with the health department for several months to take over a spot in a strip mall at 54595 C.R. 17, Elkhart.
On Oct. 17, a former employee called the health department to complain about the restaurant. She said she quit over sanitation and food safety issues and cited 15 things.
An inspector visited the restaurant and found dirty dishes and some violations, but not everything the employee claimed to have seen. “That's typical because it's a snapshot in time,” he said.
During the inspection, the inspector found 14 critical violations and seven non-critical. The violations included food being stored uncovered, an open beverage container on a shelf above food, a burned out light bulb, undated food, raw food stored near ready-to-eat food, warm milk and improper use of a hand washing sink.
The inspector talked with the Cornells and warned them “if critical violations cited on the routine inspection were not corrected by the re-inspection, the facility may be called into our office to discuss license suspension,” according to the document.
Hoover said last week it's rare to find such violations so soon after opening. “We're dealing with all the habits and so forth,” he said.
“I think the warning of license suspension speaks for itself,” he said.
An inspector returned on Oct. 30 to find all of the violations had been corrected.
On Nov. 6, another former employee complained about sanitation issues, including how dirty dishes were handled. Hoover followed up with the Cornells.
In November, Hoover and Becca Cornell discussed how 17 Cuisine could use maple syrup and he told them it had to be from a source registered with the Indiana State Department of Health.
At the end of that email conversation, according to county records, Hoover asked about the sign out front stating “under new management.”
She responded, “We've had a pretty rough start.” She said employees couldn't do their jobs and they fired all but one cook.
On Dec. 4, an inspector saw signs were down and a no trespassing sign was on the door.
How the Cornells left the restaurant is a subject of debate. They have one version. Building owner John Lapierre has another.
But while the restaurant was closing, LivingSocial was offering a deal for the restaurant. Thirty-six people paid $20 for $40 worth of food at the restaurant.
On Friday, Jody Gavin, spokesperson for LivingSocial, said, “We're actually in the process of canceling the offer.”
The company reaches out five times over five days to confirm closure and then emails those who purchased it to offer a refund.
Anyone who wants a refund now can call 877-521-4191 or go to help.livingsocial.com.
Those people will get a refund, but employees who are still owed money may have a longer battle. Lapierre said some 17 Cuisine employees are owed money. Brittany Wade, who worked for the Cornells at DC's Burgers, said she and others are trying to get money for three weeks of work, but it's not easy to file such things with the state.
She's irritated the Cornells opened a third restaurant, but still owe her money.
The Cornells aren't in business anymore. They likely won't open again in Elkhart County, according to what Darren Cornell said after the closing.
Running restaurants is hard work. Doing it well is even harder. Like anything, some are better at this than others.
But the record of the Cornells trying to run restaurants in Elkhart County is not a pretty one.
We trust people to feed us safely as we go out to eat. The Elkhart County Health Department, which has a reputation for holding restaurateurs to high standards, does it in the interest of public safety. When restaurants are run well and feed us well, they do us a great service. The 17 Cuisine saga is a lesson in how important good food service is.
I'm hungry. Let's eat.
Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 574-296-5805, on Twitter @hungrymarshall or via Facebook. His blog is at www.blogs.etruth.com/diningalaking/.
Elkhart County Health Department inspection of 17 Cuisine restaurant
Elkhart County Health Department follow-up inspection of 17 Cuisine