For lack of a sink, a popular Valley eatery may close its door Nov. 2.
According to Carolyn Schumacher, owner of Carolyn’s Weenie Wagon, the establishment will close permanently on that date due to ongoing conflict with the Naugatuck Valley Health District. The district, which rated the Weenie Wagon “Good” in its latest inspection, has sent Schumacher a letter demanding that she make a series of improvements to her food trailer by Nov. 4.
“Basically all this is over not having the right kind of sink,” Schumacher told a customer last week. She declined to speak to The Gazette about her situation, but she told customers that making the required improvements would cost about $2,500. Locally focused Internet sites and at least two Facebook pages have been flooded with supportive comments and offers to help keep the hot dog stand open.
The biggest issue is that Schumacher’s trailer lacks adequate plumbing. This is a health problem for a number of reasons, according to the district.
There is a portable toilet adjacent to the trailer. The trailer, though, also lacks hand washing facilities. In his inspection Sanitarian Pran Gjeloshi noted that the Weenie Wagon has what he described as a “mop sink” suitable for dumping out dirty water and rinsing mops. The mop sink appears not to be used regularly since boxes and other miscellaneous supplies are stacked in front of it.
Assistant Health Director David Rogers said proper hand washing was an absolute necessity for a food service establishment. Schumacher has hand sanitizer in the trailer, but that is not an appropriate substitute for washing, he said.
“Using hand sanitizer is a good idea in addition to washing, but it is cannot be done in place of washing,” Rogers said. “If your hands are dirty and you use hand sanitizer, your hands are still dirty.”
Ideally, food service establishments should have a three-bay sink, with separate sections for washing, rinsing and disinfecting. For an establishment the size of the Weenie Wagon, Rogers said the district would be fine with a smaller, two-bay sink, along with proper procedures for cleaning the sink.
The lack of a proper sink also led Gjeloshi to cite Schumacher for not having facilities to wash utensils or food containers. Rogers said Schumacher was washing utensils and containers at her home, an unacceptable practice.
“Washing should be done in a commercial facility,” Rogers said. Previously, Schumacher had been allowed to use the kitchen at Pilgrim Barbecue in Ansonia, but that restaurant has since closed.
Pilgrim’s closure also left Schumacher without a commercial kitchen to store her food. The trailer lacks a refrigerator, and Rogers said Schumacher keeps food and condiments on ice during the day, but also uses her home to store supplies. Rogers said a proper refrigerator is a must.
“For something the size of the Weenie Wagon, even a small, dorm refrigerator would be fine,” Rogers said. “It just has to be big enough for her to store what she expects to sell that day. As long as she has a proper place for long-term storage, that would be fine.”
Rogers said the district would make reasonable compromises, i.e. being a dorm refrigerator and two-bay sink versus a three-bay, but stressed that all food service establishments must meet basic health standards.
Part of the problem could simply be that the Weenie Wagon’s popularity has outstripped its facilities. Inspection reports from a decade ago show that the menu consisted mostly of hot dogs, condiments, cans of soda and bags of chips. The current menu includes dozens of items, including grilled cheese sandwiches, soups, breakfast sandwiches and more.
“Restaurants outgrow their space sometimes,” Rogers said.