Dirty Dining: Rodent droppings and temperature violations were wake up call for Garden Restaurant

Dirty Dining: The Garden Restaurant

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Tom Varlas bought The Garden Restaurant on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg almost three years ago and told ABC Action News anchor Wendy Ryan, it's been a huge undertaking.

"We've replaced a compressor over here.  This is a new cooler over here.  This is a new cooler over here.  We've got a brand new AC unit coming in as well to make the environment nicer.  This kitchen hasn't had AC in 20 years," Varlas told Ryan, while taking her behind the kitchen doors.

And after state inspectors discovered over 50 rodent droppings in August near the cooks' line, on top of food containers, and near the prep table, fryer area and coolers, Varlas realized he had more improvements to make.

"There were holes in the building.  It's a 122-year-old property.  It was a wake-up experience for us, you know and we're going to use it as a positive," Varlas said.

Also in August, inspectors discovered a live roach near the canned goods rack, and food temperature violations including Portabello mushrooms, eggplant, sour cream, mozzarella, and crab cake mix all between 51 and 54 degrees. Cold food should be kept at 41 degrees or below.

Food temperature violations were also recorded in July, May and January of this year, with a stop sale on two pounds of butter.  Varlas says he reevaluated his kitchen conditions and his entire staff.

"It's inexcusable what happened in the past as far as the temperatures goes, but we've addressed that and moved forward since then with a whole new staff in the kitchen," Varlas added.

Varlas claims he's bought over $50,000 in new kitchen equipment and took Ryan on a tour to show off the renovations.

"My friend Sammy did all the granite throughout the place," Varlas commented.

The Garden also has a new chef and a new menu.

And after accumulating 61 critical violations in nine months, Varlas is determined to not make the same mistakes he's made in the past.

"I took certain things for granted in the kitchen, meaning that I trusted certain employees. But from here
on out, I just do everything myself. And make sure I supervise everything myself," Varlas declared.

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