Siena’s in Grass Valley closed due to health and safety code violations, owner faces criminal investigation
Siena’s Cafe and Grill, a Grass Valley mainstay that formerly was a Perko’s franchise, closed down abruptly last week right before a scheduled grand opening celebration.
The restaurant in the 1000 block of Plaza Drive was shuttered by the county health department, allegedly for a number of violations that owner Leah Fowler failed to rectify over the course of eight months.
Fowler also is facing an investigation by the Grass Valley Police Department, in the wake of a number of complaints filed by vendors and former employees, as well as a complaint that reportedly was filed with the state labor board.
Fowler bought the business in 2012 and left the national franchise in March of this year, renaming and remodeling the restaurant; she had scheduled a grand opening for the end of this month.
This is not the first time the restaurant has had financial woes. Former owner Paul Jun purchased the restaurant in 2003 after the franchise’s former boss, Allene Parrish, had insufficient funds to cover payroll, owing $60,000 in rent, purchases of goods and royalties to the Fresno-based company.
Siena’s Cafe and Grill was closed down on Aug. 26 due to continuous violations of the health and safety code, according to Nevada County Environmental Health Department Program Manager Dave Huff.
“It had been an ongoing compliance issue with them,” Huff said. “We started inspecting them in the beginning of this year, and after months and months of trying to get them into compliance, it came to a point where there existed some imminent health hazards that we had to close them.”
The county inspected the establishment and found evidence of several safety code violations including rodent infestation, a lack of sanitization of wash ware and utensils, and food operators who had no food handling safety certification.
“Their permit was suspended until such time that they came into compliance,” Huff said. “We’re waiting to hear back if they’re going to call for a re-inspection, because they need a re-inspection if they’re going to open.”
Huff said the county typically does routine inspections on businesses once or twice a year, and found evidence of health hazards at Siena’s at a Jan. 24 inspection, when the restaurant was notified and asked to comply with county code.
Huff said the county has since inspected the restaurant nine times.
According to Fowler, the county health department docked her because of not having a dishwasher chemical that she says was delivered to the restaurant later than expected.
Fowler said she has turned the closure into time for her and her staff to square things away for an official grand opening for the restaurant.
Fowler said she thinks that the health department did a good job of making sure everything in her establishment was functional, but denies there ever being a rodent infestation at her business.
“Oh my gosh, no, I have Economy Pest Control,” she said. “Every two weeks, I have someone get everything squared away, so no we do not have a rodent infestation. That’s a little overhyped.”
As for her employees not being sufficiently certified to serve food, Fowler said that is currently not true, and claimed that one of her managers had a health issue that did not allow him to attend required food certification meetings.
Police investigating complaints
Former Siena’s employee Jaytie Horrell said that she didn’t notice any health hazards while working there, but was sure that some things weren’t up to code. Horrell, 26, started working at the restaurant in June, as a hostess, and decided to leave in August because the work environment was unprofessional.
“I had never finished training or been trained to serve food, but they had me serving already,” Horrell said. “I was asked during an emergency to come open the restaurant, and it was already after opening time, and I was kind of just left there by myself, so it was very chaotic. I thought it was just very unprofessional.”
Horrell also claimed that money was physically stolen from her while at the restaurant, and when she went to cash her work check, after quitting, she encountered an issue.
“When I got my check, it was short $300,” Horrell said. “To top it off, I tried to cash that check that was short, but there was insufficient funds in the payroll account so I wasn’t able to cash it, which made my rent late and everything.”
Horrell said she filed a complaint with the state Labor Commission a week ago, and added, “I haven’t gotten paid the rest of that money and the next pay periods that I was owed … I’m not the only one that this is happening to.”
The labor board said they would not release information on whether complaints had been filed against Siena’s.
According to Fowler, issues with her payroll came from an employee whom she said stole thousands of dollars from her bank account.
“My bank account got frozen and I only have one bank account,” Fowler said. “So when that checking account got frozen, things got messed up. I still had a payroll, but I ended up giving them cash. It was still out of the bank and they still got paid.”
Fowler did file a report with Grass Valley Police in early June, claiming that an employee stole approximately $3,500 from her, confirmed Lt. Alex Gammelgard.
But since then, three separate reports have been filed against her, Gammelgard said.
A local food supplier filed a report estimating that Fowler had written about $10,000 in bad checks for products.
A second, Sacramento-based supplier reported to the police department that the company was owed about $10,000 and had not been paid by Fowler.
And a male employee reported that Fowler issued him a check for $4,500, which he cashed at a local check-processing company — but the check-cashing firm was not able to get paid the funds by the bank, Gammelgard said.
Those complaints are all being investigated by a Grass Valley detective, Gammelgard added.
Fowler says she plans to reopen, but that closing for good is an option.
“It’s just really frustrating, and it really wears you down, so not opening up is definitely an option,” Fowler said. “But I don’t want to lose everything, I’ve worked so hard to do it.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User