BY: SHAELYNE MOODIE & CHASE MELVIN
The Blackbird Cafe, located in LIU Brooklyn’s Conolly Hall, was shut down because of a failing health inspection grade received on Feb. 14. According to onlookers, health inspectors closed the cafe during a lunch service and instructed students to vacate the premises.
Prior to its closure, the cafe had long been the subject of complaints from Brooklyn Campus students and faculty members. The majority of the complaints revolved around the poor storage, handling and preparation of the food, as well as the unsanitary conditions of the cafe. For at least a month, several students have claimed that the cafe’s food afflicted them with nausea, stomach aches, uncontrollable vomiting and other conditions often associated with food poisoning.
According to students living in the Conolly dorms, the Blackbird Cafe has been out of sorts for quite a while. “There were a couple of times that I opened the bread containers and I saw flies coming out,” one resident said. “Sometimes the cafe workers weren’t wearing gloves while serving food to students. Who wants to eat like that?”
When the cafe was shutdown, it was in a state of disorder. Health inspectors noted the expired products and improper cooking instruments found in the kitchen. Additionally, various food spills and water leaks were strewn about the counters where foods and beverages were on display.
“There have been times that I had to watch my step because of puddles on the floor that hadn’t been cleaned up,” another Conolly resident said.
This isn’t the first time students have complained about the conditions of the Blackbird Cafe – in 2007 Seawanhaka published a letter to the editor from a student who sharply criticized food maintenance and preparation at the facility.
Brooklyn Campus SGA President Jermaine Isaac stated, “The cafe has been up and down for last five years.”
After the Blackbird Cafe was shut down, students with meal plans were given meal tickets to use at other campus eateries Luntey Commons, The Brooklyn Grind and Subway. Due to the inconvenience caused by the closure, students were given an unlimited amount of free food at those locations.
CampusDish – an affiliate of Aramark Food Services, a multi-billion dollar provider based in Philadelphia – operates the Blackbird Cafe, Luntey Commons and Subway. But in recent years, Aramark has reportedly faced a barrage of complaints elsewhere.
According to the University of Houston’s campus newspaper, The Daily Cougar, Aramark has long drawn complaints over its services among the student body. And in the late 1990s, Aramark was the subject of intense public scrutiny after more than 100 students at Sam Houston State University experienced a rash of illnesses associated with food poisoning. And while multiple probes were launched, no conclusive link was ultimately made to Aramark in the case.
Meanwhile, Food Services Director Michael K. Carbone Jr. has declined repeated Seawanhaka requests to comment about LIU Brooklyn’s Blackbird Cafe. And while it re-opened on the evening of Feb. 15, questions are still swirling about what led to the facility’s shutdown and rapid reinstatement.