Flier indicates new burger shop operated before certification
- Johnny's Burgers and Malts, at 111 E. Princess St. in York City, received necessary permits Feb. 29.
- Former employee says she was delivering food for restaurant during January.
- York City health inspector said she could file citation if she had proof of Jan-Feb deliveries.
Johnny's Burgers and Malts cut the ribbon to celebrate its opening on March 1, but a flier promoting the business stated that it was making deliveries as early as January — a month before it received inspection and its operating certification.
Co-owner Marvin Johnson said the York City business held several tastings prior to opening but did not take orders. A former employee, several customers and the promotional flier indicate otherwise.
Tara Mueller said she worked for Johnson and co-owner Aaron Brown at Johnny's from late December until Jan. 30 before leaving because of a conflict over wages. Her work during that time included handing out menus to local businesses, picking up materials and delivering food that customers ordered, she said.
Johnson chose not to comment on the nature of Mueller's employment with the restaurant or any of her other accusations. Brown also refused to answer questions from a York Dispatch reporter.
Tamika Rascoe, York City's health and sanitation officer, said she inspected Johnny's, at 111 E. Princess St., for the first time on Feb. 29. Her report included five violations, but the restaurant was deemed in compliance and awarded its necessary certification just before its formal opening.
Restaurants are not allowed to operate in any capacity, including delivery, before being inspected, Rascoe confirmed.
Rascoe said Johnny's did not have a license to offer tastings without a special events permit, but she said she gave them a warning and they stopped.
Those tastings helped the restaurant generate enough positive feedback to move Johnny's up to No. 6 on Yelp's The Best 10 Burgers in York, PA before opening, Johnson said previously. The restaurant is currently rated No. 3 on Yelp.
Rascoe said she had no knowledge of the restaurant delivering food before March 1.
Mueller, 21, said she made four to six deliveries each week during her time there. A copy of the menus she was handing out to businesses reads "Delivery only JANUARY through MARCH 2016" below a list of the restaurant's burgers and prices.
Mueller said she had assumed during her first couple of weeks of employment that Johnny's had already been inspected and certified. When she found out they weren't, Brown told her they had "worked something out" with the health inspector, she said.
Rascoe said no such deal existed, and the first time she had contact with Brown was when she found out about the tastings.
Michael Marsh and Carla Christopher, who work at different businesses in York City, confirmed that they had ordered food from Johnny's during January or February.
Marsh said that he was given food in exchange for handing out fliers in his office and school, but several of his co-workers did pay the restaurant for meals. He assumed they were operating with certification.
"It's an expectation in America that a business is operating legally," Marsh said. "If I knew they were operating improperly before, it would be a breech of trust and make me think, 'What other corners are they cutting?'"
Christopher said she paid for her order in cash and had picked her food up at the restaurant.
"I really want to see a minority-run business be a part of that area," she said, adding that it didn't occur to her that they might be operating without a permit.
Rascoe said she could issue a citation if she found proof that Johnny's was selling food before getting its permit, but she'd likely need Mueller and customers to testify in court.
She's issued several warnings to food facilities operating without a permit during her time as a health inspector, but she's never had to issue a citation, Rascoe said.
Rascoe said she always gives a warning under the assumption that the offenders didn't know they were doing anything wrong. Neither Johnson nor Brown had ever owned or operated a restaurant before Johnny's.
"For me, it's just, if you don't know something, you should ask," Rascoe said.
The state Department of Agriculture conducts the majority of food safety inspections throughout Pennsylvania.
Lydia Johnson, director of the department's Bureau of Food Safety, said she's overseen many citations filed against food facilities without a license.
"Our goal is to make sure food is prepared in a safe manner," Johnson said.
The department regularly inspects restaurants in its jurisdictions along with follow-up, new ownership and complaint inspections.
"We get a fair share of complaints from competitors," she added.
— Reach David Weissman at email@example.com.