By Madeleine Thompson
Henry’s Copper Curry was closed on Friday, Sept. 30 after an annual health and fire safety inspection revealed several violations. Though the Curtis Inn that houses Henry’s is under state jurisdiction, the Mount Vernon Fire Department and the Knox County Health Department were included in the inspection.
Assistant Fire Chief Chris Menapace said the fire safety violations at the popular Mount Vernon Indian restaurant involved the fire suppressant system above their stove, wiring issues with some of their appliances and some general maintenance flaws like the cleanliness of certain parts of the kitchen that could lead to fire spread.
Health commissioner Julie Miller said that Henry’s had been inspected about a month ago and “was given some minor things to work on.” The new violations were discovered when the fire department alerted the health department during their inspection. Health violations included “the handling of meat and poultry products without gloved hands, unclean conditions and outdated and moldy food,” Miller said. Despite the situation, however, both Miller and Menapace say that the restaurants and buildings of Mount Vernon typically adhere very well to health and safety regulations. Menapace has worked closely with Henry’s on safety improvements to hasten its reopening, which is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 13.
In response to these violations, Henry’s is retraining their staff and has entered at least one staff member in the three-week “Serve Safe” program run by the health department, which is “a food management course,” according to Miller.
Miller and Menapace both said that no special attention will be paid to Henry’s after this. “[Henry’s] will get as much attention as it warrants,” Menapace said.
“Unless we have someone in the kitchen 24/7 … there’s no guarantee that one restaurant is any safer than another,” Miller said. “We’ll probably put Henry’s on a plan where we conduct weekly and then monthly inspections for a while. We would do the same thing with any restaurant that had a critical closure.”
Henry’s has always had a close relationship with the Kenyon community, whose students often go there on nights out. “The food is great, and whenever I go, I always see Kenyon people,” Becky Gorin ’14 said. “One time I even ran into a professor.”
“[Kenyon students] are our bread and butter throughout the year,” said Henry’s General Manager James Rhinebolt, who has worked there for three years. “We try to cater to them as much as possible – we started doing delivery, we do different specials for students and faculty … and we’re finally using the K-Card this year. It’s really important to us to maintain the relationship we have with Kenyon.”
At first, Rhinebolt acknowledged being upset about the shutdown: “You never want it to reflect badly on you to the community,” he said. Rhinebolt was eager to point out that the restaurant’s closure was a good opportunity for them to update and improve its dynamic. “It was really a blessing in disguise because it gave us a chance to get a new chef, improve our menu, and now we can offer different things to students that most Indian restaurants can’t,” he said.
“We had an issue with our chef, and he wasn’t willing to learn,” Rhinebolt continued, “so this time, we have a new and better chef who specializes in more Indian cuisine than our other chef did. We’re really using this time to grow as a business – we’re trying to take it to the next level while we can.”
Rhinebolt hopes the Kenyon and Mount Vernon communities on whom Henry’s depends will not lose faith. “Unfortunately, this is a small community, and there are going to be people that this is going to hurt, and we will lose those people,” he said. “They should feel comfortable being able to come here. … Unlike other restaurants, everyone in our staff in the kitchen is going to be trained in food safety. I personally have a level two certification.” The community has nothing to fear from Henry’s and can expect improved food, deals and fire safety, according to Rhinebolt.
“We really depend on the students and staff [of Kenyon] and we hope that they can support us in the future, because it might seem like something bad has happened, but only good things are going to come of this,” he said.