Health Department orders fixes at Curtis' Bar-B-Que

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PUTNEY — Curtis' Bar-B-Que advertises itself as "The Ninth Wonder of the World."

But that slogan might have local people and state regulators wondering what has happened at the popular barbecue joint, that was once feted by The New York Times.

Curtis' Bar-B-Que operated for a couple of weeks earlier this spring without a state license, and the Vermont Department of Health threatened to go to court to shut it down.

But last week the state issued a temporary 60-day license after an inspection revealed many violations at the longtime outdoor barbecue restaurant, whose operations include an outdoor barbecue pit, with kitchen facilities contained in two bright blue former school busesjoined together.

During the state inspection last week the restaurant scored only 79 points out of 100, which is nine points above the cut off point for being shut down by state regulators.

The problems outlined in the June 11 inspection include several that had to be corrected within two days — by June 13 — and the other problems had to be corrected by the end of the month on June 30. The problems included a sink that leaks onto the floor, and a "plumbing system was not constructed, installed OR maintained according to regulation," the "observations and corrective actions stated.

"Outer openings are not adequately protected against entry of insects and rodents," the report added. "Floors are not properly constructed and maintained in good repair," it said, while noting that the "person in charge" during the inspection reported that "new flooring has been purchased to redo the bus floor by June 30, 2019."

Others orders include a requirement that "non functional items" be removed from the premises.

"Progress has been made but numerous areas and structures on site need to be reduced of unnecessary items," the report stated.

"Premises are not free of rubbish, litter, debris and standing water," it said, again noting that some progress had been made but more work was needed.

Elisabeth Wirsing, head of food and lodging program for the Department of Health, said Wednesday the state was working closely with the owner and operator of the outdoor barbeque restaurant, which opened for the season on Memorial Day weekend without the required license.

According to other inspection reports on file on the Health Department's website, the restaurant has been having serious troubles since 2018, with scores even lower than last Tuesday.

An inspection in August 2018 gave the restaurant only a 72 — two points above failure of a state inspection. A followup inspection in September showed minimal improvement to a 74.

The problems detailed in the inspection in August 2018 included a complaint that raw animal food was not properly separated from raw ready-to-eat food, and that there wasn't a functioning septic system at the outdoor restaurant.

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Wirsing, in a series of interviews this week, said the Department of Health had received a complaint from the public about Curtis' last year and inspected, and found several serious violations. But she said allegations that someone had gotten sick eating at Curtis' could not be verified.

Wirsing said the state had inspected Curtis last week on June 11, and set several deadlines for June 13 for several immediate repairs. She would only say that the state was working with the owners of Curtis' to make sure the repairs and improvements were completed.

Christine Tuff, the manager of Curtis' Bar-B-Que, was angry that a Reformer reporter had gone to the restaurant on Thursday. During a telephone interview, she said the restaurant was "in compliance" with the Department of Health, later adding to include "almost everything."

She said in the 40 years that the open-air restaurant had been in business in Putney, it never had any problems until the Windham-Windsor Housing Trust built a housing complex next door.

"You should write a story about racism," she said, ending a phone conversation abruptly. Her daughter Sarah Tuff, who was taking orders at the restaurant window, refused to answer questions, and told her father, Curtis Tuff, who was barbecuing some ribs, not to talk to a reporter. A second daughter, Raechel Bennett, contacted the Reformer on Friday and said the restaurant problems were a result of her father's seriously declining health. He is 80, she said, and has spent a lot of time in the hospital. Other family members are trying to keep the restaurant afloat. Bennett said she had worked there many years, off and on, and said her father was "an amazing man" and probably didn't realize the extent of the problems.

Her sister Sarah, she said, is trying, unsuccessfully, to keep things going. "It's a sad story. He's a good man," she said of her father.

Wirsing said the state had been working with the Tuff family for about 10 months about issues at the restaurant.

"Based on the inspections that we conducted at the end of the season last year, the Health Department has been working with Curtis to get into compliance with some of the critical issues," she said.

The department told the family that before a restaurant license could be issued for 2019 it would have to resolve the Health Department concerns, she said.

"We're looking for progress during the 60-day period," she said. "We want to work with the owners. Our goal is to work with the owners but to also protect the public," said Wirsing.

She said the temporary license expires on Aug. 10. Local health department inspector Dick Martindale was joined by his supervisor Robert Bruce in conducting the two-hour plus inspection.

Wirsing said as part of the license, the restaurant must reduce the number of seats, in their case picnic tables, from the current 20 to only four, or 16 seats. Wirsing said that reduction was included in state law and was not related to the restaurant's other problems.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.

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