NYC restaurant letter grades: more shakedown than sanitation effort?

Ten years ago, New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene started assigning letter grades to restaurants. In the five boroughs, these letters, which must be displayed prominently, have reached iconic status—they’re used by diners across the city to determine an eatery’s level of cleanliness. They’re also a source of obsession for staff, who fixate on the points system the Department uses to determine violations during its unannounced visits. But Demian Repucci, owner of Bruno Pizza in the East Village, tells a different side of the story for Grub Street: In his account, the lettering system amounts to a government-sanctioned shakedown system, allowing city officials to hit restaurants with an endless cascade of arbitrary fees as part of “a massive moneymaking operation hidden in plain sight.”

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