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B for brunch! NY restaurant cleverly hides inspection grade

Nov. 1, 2013 at 12:36 PM ET

You may turn lemon into lemonade, but one New York café has turned a real bummer into brunch.

Astor Row Café in Harlem was awarded a “B” as part of New York City health department’s restaurant rating system — and considering that Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently advised New Yorkers not to eat in restaurants unless they get an “A” grade — that “B” spells bad news.


But the crafty owner cooked up something just a bit better, turning that “B” into a colorful sign for “BRUNCH.”

"It's my way of protesting against the hefty fines I've had to pay the health department," owner Emmanuel Pena told TODAY.com. "It's my way of saying, 'what's going on?' If I can't afford an expensive lawyer, then I'm stuck with whatever they give me."

Astor Row Cafe was cited over the summer for indication that there were mice on the premises. Pena said he pays a pest control company to come through regularly, and denies that there is any evidence of rodents. Pena had to pay $3,200 in fines and is left with the B.

"It was bothering me, so a few weeks later, I posted the brunch sign," he said, adding that it's been up for two months. After someone complained to the health department that the restaurant was trying to camouflage the "B," Pena received a letter from the health department telling him to make the grade clear. So he posted that letter next to the "B."

The letter grade system shows results of unannounced sanitary inspections by the New York City Department of health. Any violation of a regulation — from a burned out light bulb to spoiled food — racks up a certain amount of points. The points from all violations are tallied, and the restaurant is given a grade. A “B” signifies 14 to 27 points. 

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