Danielle deBenedictis broke down in tears outside the town’s Public Safety Facility following yesterday’s Board of Health meeting.
For deBenedictis, the owner of The Summer House hotel and restaurant in Sconset, these were happy tears. The Board of Health had accepted a resolution The Summer House had proposed to bring it back into compliance and, after being closed all summer, to reopen as soon as next week. It marked one of the final hurdles necessary for the Sconset landmark to bring a difficult chapter to a close.
“It was always my hope to work with the various boards,” deBenedictis said, her voice cracking. “And I appreciate that they did.”
The Building Department had already signed off on a certificate of inspection for The Summer House’s cottages back on July 12. The resolution of the Health Department matter - which included a compliance agreement with a food service consultant - will allow the restaurant to join the cottages in reopening next week. The final step will be for the town to formally issue The Summer House's liquor license, which had been withheld pending the resolution of its issues with several town departments.
The Summer House was supposed to open back on June 16. But just two days before that date, the town shut down the establishment following a series of failed inspections and the discovery of faulty gas work and other construction completed by unlicensed contractors. More than a month later, it remains closed and has missed out on a sizable chunk of the summer season.
Thursday’s hearing had been called by The Summer House to appeal the Health Department’s decision to issue a notice of non-renewal for the establishment’s food licenses. That notice was issued in late June after an unannounced inspection of the closed property by the Health Department’s chief environmental health officer John Hedden who discovered dog feces in the commercial kitchen. deBenedicitis and The Summer House’s attorney, Mary-Ellen Manning, had argued that the kitchen was still a construction site and not open at the time of that discovery. But given the track record of the business, the Health Department staff wanted assurances there would be no further issues and required The Summer House to reapply for its licenses, which it did.
The compliance agreement requires The Summer House to hire an independent expert/consultant - identified in the agreement as Xavier Cervera - to provide training to its kitchen and bar staff regarding food safety, the food code, and the island’s health code. Cervera will provide updates to the Nantucket Health Department to verify the training has occurred and ensure the restaurant is code compliant.
“They’ve met the requests of the staff, and we have no objections moving forward,” Nantucket Health Department director Roberto Santamaria said. “We’ll continue to monitor as we always do with normal monthly inspections.”
The resolution applies to The Summer House's restaurant, but not the bistro. The establishment will have to follow a similar process to reopen that part of its operation, which still requires "physical changes" before it can reopen, Manning said.
Board of Health chair and Select Board member Malcolm MacNab applauded the resolution.
“The best thing about this is you sat down and worked it out without all the emotion and hassle,” MacNab said. “Congratulations to both parties on finding a resolution.”
The small crowd inside the Public Safety Facility offered its applause at MacNab’s comment.
Thursday’s hearing had been continued from July 6th, when deBenedicitis and Manning asked the Board of Health for more time before considering their appeal. Since then, a group of The Summer House’s neighbors formed a coalition - now known as the South Siasconset Neighborhood Association - to state they wanted The Summer House to return, but only if it was done the right way. In a letter written by the group’s attorney Steven Cohen, it urged the town to ensure the establishment was properly permitted, inspected, and subjected to some additional level of regulatory scrutiny before reopening.
That development, a source told the Current, was likely the reason why The Summer House decided to drop its appeal of the Health Department’s notice of non-renewal of its food licenses and bring it to the table for compliance.