After City Decision, Tastease Owners Still Plan To Close Doughnut Shop
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
May 17, 2012
HARTFORD — — The two seating tables at Tastease can stay.
But the husband-and-wife owners of the Parkville mini-doughnut and sandwich shop still plan to close June 30 when their city food license expires. Another potential buyer, a caterer in West Hartford, informed them in recent days that there would be no deal.
Even though Health and Human Services Director Raul Pino offered a pardon over the small tables, which the city deems in violation of the health code, Tony and Susan Mendes said the damage has been done.
And 67-year-old Tony is ready to retire after making about 950,000 of the tiny, colorful doughnuts that have gained a following since Tastease opened on New Park Avenue in 2004.
"We put signs on the windows, 'Business for sale,'" he said Thursday, sounding somber. "We'll see what happens."
Mendes had been unhappy with the city over taxes and newly enforced mandates. Then came the quarrel over two indoor tables that a previous health inspector had recommended as good for business, the couple said. The seats technically make Tastease a sit-down restaurant. Because the 400-square-foot shop does not have a public restroom for patrons, a new inspector said they violated the code.
A Courant story on the couple's decision to close brought out a swell of supporters this month. A West Hartford official left a business card and told them they were welcome to open up Tastease in his town. "Super nice guy," Tony Mendes said. Regulars have pleaded for more time.
"One of my customers, a grown man, crying," said Susan Mendes, 57, who works the register. "That was a very emotional day for me."
Among the new visitors was Pino.
"I was very angry and upset in the beginning," said Tony Mendes, who blames the health and human services department for costing him and his wife at least $100,000 with an initial blown deal this spring. A buyer backed out upon learning of the city's problem with the tables.
"I said, 'I'm here to talk ... I'm here to hear your side,'" Pino recalled Thursday.
"The doughnuts were great," Pino added. "Their kitchen was immaculate and I ate there a few times."
During one such visit, he told the owners that "we will not enforce something we haven't enforced before," Pino said.
"This violation does not place our citizens at risk," Pino said Thursday.
"People have to keep in mind these are state laws; it's not just the city," he said. In Tastease's case, because the city previously approved or overlooked the tables, Pino said he used his discretion: "It's a very small facility. There are only four or six chairs. People don't stay long."
Tony and Susan Mendes believe the gesture comes too late. But Pino said he'd be willing to negotiate an understanding with a new buyer, if there is one.
"We want businesses," Pino said. "We need taxes. That's how the city works."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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