Does the Health Department Have a Borough Bias?

A potential catastrophe for area cupcake connoisseurs was narrowly averted last week when Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village (best known for fueling the sugary cravings of characters on HBO’s Sex and the City) abruptly began baking again—less than 24 hours after city health inspectors shuttered the place.

“We were all pleasantly surprised,” said Magnolia publicist Phillip Baltz about the bakery’s remarkably rapid reopening.

Meanwhile, across the East River, another beloved pastry hub marked its 60th straight dark day under a seemingly never-ending Health Department-ordered shutdown with yet more bad news: another failed inspection, possibly its last.

“C’est fini! Finito!” said Rosana Rosa, owner of Delices de Paris in Park Slope, whose chocolate ganache cake is a neighborhood favorite. “This was my last chance.”

Aside from the usual stocks of sugar, flour and yeast, the Manhattan and Brooklyn bakeries have much in common: fruit flies and evidence of mice, for instance, according to inspection reports. Both venues also experienced a recent shake-up in ownership.

The fundamental difference, at least in dealing with the Health Department, is tact.

With the help of a slick public-relations adviser, the famed Bleecker Street bakery issued a carefully crafted and conciliatory response to its unexpected closure at the hands of the city’s food-safety hawks on July 11: “We take the health, welfare and safety of customers VERY seriously,” according to a statement from the Magnolia Bakery publicist, Mr. Baltz, “and have taken immediate steps to cure each of these violations by approximately 7 p.m. tonight.”

Fiery Brooklyn baker Ms. Rosa, on the other hand—perhaps underscoring the true sentiments of inspector-rattled restaurateurs citywide—has employed a bit more vitriol. Frustrated by the bureaucratic rigmarole, she has complained about her ongoing predicament to reporters and posted defiant fliers in her shuttered store’s windows: “CALL 311 TO COMPLAIN ABOUT THE HEALTH DEPT. HARASSING THIS ESTABLISHMENT.”

Ms. Rosa, 46, thinks she’s been treated more harshly since she first spoke out against the Health Department, when she told the Daily News back in March, “Why can’t they get themselves together and figure out what they are doing?”

Her 4,000-square-foot bakery on Ninth Street was initially shuttered after the basement flooded in February. It reopened two weeks later, only to be closed again, after the Daily News article, on May 14. The business has remained shuttered ever since, with inspectors citing conditions conducive to vermin, as well as plumbing, lighting and ventilation issues.

“They’ve been to my place 15 times,” Ms. Rosa told The Observer. “Every time they come, they find something else.”

Indeed, Magnolia has had a far easier time with inspectors. “It was very easy,” said Mr. Baltz. “Call a plumber, have a sink put in, fix a broken handle on a cabinet, put a cover on the light where it’s missing—that’s about it.” The whole thing took a matter of hours.

“The path of least resistance is a smart one to take,” Mr. Baltz added. “The ownership took it very seriously and said, ‘We’re gonna take care of this right away.’”

Does the Health Department Have a Borough Bias?