Behind the Kitchen Door: Athenian Garden

12:29 AM, Feb 23, 2012   |    comments
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - Known for its Greek salads, family-run Athenian Garden has a loyal following.

"I'm always stuffed. It's delicious!" said customer Cheryl Bastow right after her meal.

But the restaurant's location across from Tyrone Square Mall racked up 9 critical violations on its last inspection February 8. So last week, we showed up to take a peek behind the kitchen door.

"No, there's no problems," insisted an employee who greeted us at the front door.

But state inspectors say yes, there were problems, documenting ready-to-eat food not properly date marked, food stored on the floor, a dirty employee bathroom, moldy ceiling tiles, and a live roach crawling on the waitress station.

We asked the employee if we could take a look inside the kitchen. We were told the owner would have to give permission and could not be reached.

We also asked for a copy of the restaurant's latest inspection report by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The employee told us she did not think she could disclose that information, but made a quick phone call when we informed her that was a violation of Florida statutes.

"It's state law, you make it available to any customer or any person or member of the public," we told the employee.

"I understand... hang on one second," the employee responded.

After a brief wait, we were granted access into the kitchen, where we found some of the same violations documented in the state report. There were dirty ceiling tiles, food on the floor, and no paper towels in the employee bathroom.

That was just the beginning.

In the walk-in cooler at Athenian Garden, we found food, including fruit stored on the floor. The state inspector documented the exact same problem.

"I'm very sorry about that, but you know it's delivery day," said Nasser Nazaripeour. The long-time employee says, despite the violations, the restaurant is safe and clean.

"I feel great about eating here, and I'm dealing with the customers for a long time, and never had any problems."

We asked if there was a problem with insects. "The roaches... as you know this is Florida. Roaches are everywhere and you can find them all day long. And you're going to miss one or two," said Nazaripeour.

But the biggest concern might be the employee bathroom. Remember the missing paper towels? Well, in July, inspectors also found no toilet paper or soap for employees to use.

"That's a problem. That's kind of gross," said Bastow, who works as a local nurse. She says for customers it's about more than just a great tasting meal.

"We just want to see that where we come and pay for is going to be a clean place to eat."

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