Ann Hall, City of Sequim building official and fire marshal, issued a Notice of Violation to cafe co-owner Allen Drake on June 25 stating that, “extensive code violations pose life safety, health and welfare issues for the owners, the Drake's and the general public at large. Therefore, the hood and associated fire suppression system are declared to be a public nuisance and shall be abated by repair, rehabilitation, demolition or removal no later than July 24.”
The notice states, “No food shall be prepared utilizing the appliances that are required to be protected by a Type Hood and associated Fire Suppression System.”
A June 10 inspection by Fire Inspector Steve Jackson showed sheet metal in the hood had holes saturated with grease.
Drake said he understands the decision.
“One spark could cause the place to burn down in minute,” he said. “If there was a fire, there's nothing behind the holes to protect this place from a fire.”
Drake said his plan is to check with his insurance company about covering expenditures — including salaries of his seven employees — while they close for repairs. In the city's notice, it states that Sunshine Cafe owners addressed other fire code violations.
Drake said he could sell cold sandwiches and milkshakes made away from the hood but he doesn't plan to open and sell only a partial menu.
As equipment ages and safety standards improve, some local restaurants are finding newer regulations costly.
Officials with Clallam County Fire District 3 and the City of Sequim said they’ve recently upped their inspections after a long stretch of neglect.
Ann Hall, City of Sequim building official and fire marshal, said the city contracts its inspections to the fire department and that prior to the two previous fire inspectors, when inspections happened, they were hit or miss.
“The assistant chiefs would send out firefighters to inspect because we didn’t have a system down for them to go out,” she said. “The fire commissioners pushed for a fire inspector and it’s been in the last three years that we’ve had a defined program to make sure businesses are in compliance with life safety issues.”
Assistant Fire Chief Roger Moeder said many restaurants in older buildings have had to change their fire suppression systems recently following newer standards in the late 1990s.
He said older suppression systems still were being serviced until recently when the companies servicing them said they can no longer certify them.
Last month, Las Palomas Mexican Restaurant, 1085 E. Washington St., was shut down for two days by the City of Sequim until its fire suppression system was repaired.
Hall said the business’ suppression system wouldn’t pressurize but they found a vendor who could sell them a replacement bottle of suppressant. However, officials gave Las Palomas’ owners six months to replace the system.
Moeder said the vendor would only replace the bottle once though.
Fernando Lopez, co-owner of Las Palomas, said he found the news startling.
“We have an inspection every year and they’ve never said anything before,” Lopez said.
He estimates a new fire system at around $3,500 but his problems don’t end there.
Lopez said he was told his hood system for cooking is too small for its original footprint. The cost could be more than $20,000, estimated by other restaurants and fire officials, to replace the system.
As an owner of the building, Lopez would be responsible to replace the hood system.
“I don’t want to change anything, but they are telling me I have six months to do this or we’ll have to close,” he said. “The money will be hard to come up with for this.”
Moeder said they’ve worked with businesses to find solutions to make restaurants safer.
“We don’t want to close anyone down,” he said. “That’s not good for anybody.”
Hall said they provide education and guidance when in situations like this, referring them to resources like restaurant supply companies.
Another business feeling regulatory pressures is Sunshine Cafe, 135 W. Washington St., which after an inspection was given until October to replace its hood system for being out of compliance.
Allen and Dianne Drake have been renting the space since 2001 and have been in negotiations with Olympic View Properties owner Brown M. Maloney and city and fire officials to find solutions for the costly repairs.
Dianne said she made T-shirts with “Save the Sunshine Cafe” on them with the intention to save her business due to the cost. When asked by customers about the shirts, she said, “It’s my prayer right now.”
Later, Allen said he and Maloney came to an agreement about the system’s cost and fire officials continue to look for solutions, too.
“I can’t speak for all landlords, but a hood is a part of the infrastructure of this building and what they lease,” Maloney said.
No timetable has been set for the repairs but Maloney said he’s left it up to the Drakes to decide the best time to close temporarily for repairs.
The Moon Palace, 323 E. Washington St., also faced some costly changes.
Owner George Lee said he was told to update his fire suppression system. It cost about $3,500 to replace.
“Before, mine was a powder and not a liquid and foam system like today,” he said.
As a renter of the building for 29 years, Lee said he was responsible for the change since it wasn’t part of the building.
Moeder said they continue to inspect restaurants annually and plan to work with them as best as possible in continuing to find solutions.
“The ultimate thing is if (businesses) have an issue they have to be corrected to current standards right away,” he said