Before Closure, Bernhard's Bakery Cited for Roach Infestation, Unsafe Building
The sudden closure of Bernhard's Bakery - a local landmark for fifty years - shocked the customers who frequent its Newport and Latonia locations.
But the news was probably not a surprise to its owner, who had been cited repeatedly by the Northern Kentucky Health Department for various violations related to its operations, and the City of Newport's code enforcement department related to the condition of its York Street building.
Earlier this week, owner Bernie Hoelmer told The River City News that the City of Newport was forcing him to close because of violations related to the installation of electricity in his building. The bill, he said, had come in at roughly $30,000 and the business could not afford the costly repairs and continue operations there. Because the Latonia location sells goods prepared in Newport, it was closed, too.
At Monday night's Newport City Commission, elected officials and the city manager were defensive at the news of Bernhard's closure, arguing that the city does not work to shut down businesses.
SEE PREVIOUSLY: Bernhard's Bakery Closes Newport, Latonia Locations
"Someone called me right before I walked into the meeting tonight about the closing of a business in Newport and I want to point out that it is very disturbing to staff and to myself that some people just automatically assume the worst," City Manager Tom Fromme said during the meeting. "I'm not pondering closing businesses in Newport in my spare time. The staff go over and beyond to work try to work with everybody in the city."
The closure of Bernhard's was confirmed on Monday morning and at the time, Newport officials declined to comment about the code enforcement action. The River City News obtained the reports through an open records request on Tuesday.
"Normally I don't talk about these kinds of things but I feel compelled to do so," Fromme said. "It's disrespectful to staff who bust their tails on a daily basis and have to deal with a lot of criticism from everywhere."
Fromme said the evaluation of the Bernhard's building was triggered by a separate investigation brought about by "another agency". Through an open records requestThe River City News obtained several reports from the Northern Kentucky Health Department related to Bernhard's.
An anonymous tip
On September 13, the Health Department was asked by an anonymous customer to take a look at Bernhard's York Street location.
Upon inspection a week later, the anonymous tipster's concerns were confirmed: the inspector found roaches in the glazing station, in the wall behind the proofing oven, in the service oven, in the vents above the oven, along walls, and running across the floor.
On September 20, Bernhard's food permit was suspended until the roach infestation could be remedied.
On September 27, in a follow-up report, it was determined that the roach problem had been addressed and that regular pest control actions would take place. The permit was reinstated but other problems related to the building were found. These included issues related to mold.
City evaluates building
On September 30, notice was served to Diane Hoelmer, the owner of the York Street building that houses the bakery, noting multiple code violations. Mold and issues with the bathroom areas, as noted in the Health Department's inspection, were repeated. The top issue, though, was related to electrical wiring.
"Have the state electrical inspector evaluate the entire building and once complete, have a licensed electrician make all repairs," wrote Code Enforcement Officer Michael Cronin in the notice. De-cluttering stairwells and improving exit lighting were also requested.
In a follow-up letter to Diane Hoelmer from Cronin on November 3 stated that the state electrical inspector had not been contacted yet. Hoelmer was given ten days to comply. Failure to do so, Cronin wrote, would force the city to close the business until all violations have been fixed.
On November 22, the City of Newport issued a letter that stated there is unsafe equipment present on the site that is a hazard to life, health, property, or safety of the public. It would be closed on November 30 if not fixed.
An inspection by contractor Electric Masters on November 30 found numerous violations, according to a document obtained by The River City News through an open records request.
"Throughout the building there are multitude of open junction boxes, open splices, and boxes that need covers and/or hole seals," the report said.
In the dining area, there were extension cords being used permanently, which is a violation, the report said. There were junctions with no support behind the counter. In the bakery area, equipment was powered by extension cords and one of the hoods has a fixture with open bulbs, the report said.
On the upper floors, there were not enough light fixtures to walk safely, the report noted, and one room had open wires.
The report said that all work needed to be done by a licensed electrician.
Possible criminal charges
When the bakery was shuttered by the Health Department on September 20, before having its food permit reinstated, Bernhard's was still producing food for its off-site locations. According to Health Department spokesperson Emily Gresham Wherle, the Health Department asked the Campbell County Commonwealth's Attorney Office to file charges against the bakery for operating with a suspended food permit.
The Campbell County Commonwealth's Attorney Office was not able to comment on Wednesday but Campbell County Attorney Steve Franzen told The River City News that the matter had been presented to Campbell County District Court for consideration of a possible criminal charge. A judge had not yet made a determination.
Gresham Wherle said that the Health Department had not been updated about the status of the request for charges.
City defends itself
Bernie Hoelmer told The River City News on Monday that his bakery, opened by his father, Bernhard Hoelmer, in 1966, could not recover from the costs of the needed repairs. "They shut us down in December at Christmastime. We really can't recover from that," said Hoelmer. "They told us they wouldn't let us open while the work is being done."
But the City of Newport did not act maliciously, city leaders said Monday night.
"City staff is very sensitive to small business and all concerns that residents have," Mayor Jerry Peluso said. As for the closure of Bernhard's, "It's like losing a family member. That's how I really feel."
"It's so easy to be negative," City Commissioner Frank Peluso said. "Look around. Look at our city. Look where we've come from in the last ten years. It's not as boring as everyone seems to think it is. I think it's very exciting."
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Photo: Legal Notice condemning Bernhard's Bakery location on York Street in Newport (RCN)