Normally Christophe’s To Go does not weigh into political debates. The different people who work with Christophe all have different political and religious beliefs. Our goal is to sell amazing food to all kinds of people and to provide a great work environment for all our employees. We respect and value our diversity.
But today we are going to wade into this arena because our company is being harassed by a local government agency and threatened with criminal sanctions. This attack is unfair and tomorrow, Tuesday, September 29, 2015 we will go to court to attempt to make this harassment stop.
What could it be? No, we don’t have problems with our food. No, there is no issue with our taxes, employment practices, or marketing material. The problem is in Dekalb County Georgia, where we have two retail stores. Dekalb County, which has had its share of scandals recently, has a department that manages discharge of Fat, Oil, and Grease (FOG). Normally this isn’t a problem. FOG can really mess up a municipal sewer system so it needs to be controlled. And in our large commercial kitchen in Berkley Lake we have a grease trap that is over 4,000 gallons in capacity. The problem is that Dekalb County’s FOG department has taken the position that our retail stores need to comply with it’s FOG rules.
Hey, Complying With the FOG Rules Doesn’t Seem Like a Big Deal!**
We agree. Everyone should follow the rules. The problem is that Dekalb County has a specific code section that exempts locations that sell Ready-To-Eat meals if they are not prepared onsite. That is the very definition of our stores. We don’t make food on site in our retail locations!! Christophe cannot clone himself (though sometimes we wish he could). So he makes all the food in our single kitchen every day. (Here is a link to the Dekalb FOG code section for those who like to read municipal codes. The relevant sections are 25-265.1 and 25-265.15 🙂 )
So Christophe’s To Go’s Stores Don’t Need Grease Traps Then, Right?
We’ve explained the exemption to the Dekalb County FOG regulators. We explained that we don’t make food in the stores. We don’t introduce any FOG into the system. We have even gotten other Dekalb County government officials who have come to our store and confirmed that we don’t make food in our retail stores. The responses from the FOG department have been, at different times,
“We don’t care”
“That regulation doesn’t apply” (they never say why)
“We think you are lying to us about what you do in your stores”
“We will grant you a waiver” (but they never made good on their promise).
So why does this affect us? It would severely disrupt our stores and our customers to have to close down for several days, tear out the floor, and install a grease trap. Of course the cost to the company would be in the thousands of dollars. That is, of course, assuming we could get landlord approval for installing grease traps, which is not authorized in our leases.
To have a local regulator say that they are going to enforce a code because they don’t care to follow the law or because they think you are lying… Well we think that is unfair. We have been threatened with fines and criminal sanctions if we do not bend to these regulators’ wishes.
At one time the FOG department agreed with us**
Why does this matter?
This isn’t a death penalty case. And it’s highly unlikely the Supreme Court would ever hear this case. But it is important because we are a local Atlanta business that employs more than 30 people trying hard to provide quality meals to Atlantans and to make a profit. When government steps in to unnecessarily hinder your progress it’s a bad thing. No one wins. Fortunately in our case we have the resources (including a lawyer on staff) to fight the issue. But most local businesses don’t have these resources. Most businesses would be forced to spend the money to put in a wasted trap or they would have to close. That’s a shame.
We want to expose this issue. The Dekalb County FOG Department needs to do some internal reviews and spend their resources on real issues affecting their water system. In a bigger way we need to take a stand against governments bullying their citizens. It’s not fair and we should not have to go to court to protect ourselves.
What can you do?
- If you live in Dekalb County GA please email your county commissioner. Send them this link and tell them that you’re not pleased that your tax dollars are being spent harassing businesses that are not covered under the Municipal Code. Here is the link with their emails.
- Retweet or re-post this blog. Use hashtag #StopGovtBullies.
- Tell your friends.
EDIT & UPDATE – Not even a whimper
Our fearless Director of Operations, Justin Milam, and the company’s lawyer spent more than 3 1/2 hours in the Dekalb County Code Enforcement Courtroom this morning. True to form the Dekalb FOG Department continued to stymie us with its bureaucratic style. ***No one from the department even bothered to show up at the hearing. ***When the judge finally called our case she informed us that the charge would be dismissed but that FOG could re-inspect and re-file a new citation later. Our lawyer requested to move forward with a hearing because we had spent hours preparing our case and because Mr. Milam had already skipped nearly a half-day of work to be present as a witness. Unfortunately the judge refused our request and dismissed the citation. This dismissal is known as a nolle pros, which essentially means the FOG Department can re-file the citation and we have to go back to court. The FOG Department apparently sent an email saying that we would get a waiver, but of course, they refuse to send us any official documentation of this waiver. So we remain in bureaucratic limbo.
Isn’t that a victory?
While it is good news that we didn’t lose today we would have much rather proceeded with the case. While we wasted countless hours preparing for and attending court it was literally no sweat of the FOG Department’s back. There is not a limit to the number of times the FOG Department can force us to play this game. So unfortunately the only way to fully resolve the issue is for us to file a separate action for a permanent injunction against the FOG Department. Without that we will be subject to being hauled into court regularly only to have our “enforcers” decide not to show up and let us go after having wasted many hours.
Filing an affirmative action against the FOG Department is, unfortunately, time consuming and expensive. We are considering our options, which include filing open records requests, filing a lawsuit, or letting sleeping dogs lie. Please give us your feedback. What would you do?
Thanks for reading this. Now back to making wonderful food…
Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash