Unfortunate Reality of Doing Business With Uncaring Bureaucrats
I SURVIVED THE RECESSION BUT NOT GLENDALE INSPECTION
The Gaucho’s Village has been a fixture in Glendale for the last 15 years. A Brazilian restaurant featured in Travel Channel’s Food Paradise as one of the best steakhouses in America. (Video all the way at end of this post. But read the letters first)
Due to the ongoing downtown buildup, the restaurant was forced to move. Fortunately the owner decided to stayed in Glendale and open at a location previously occupied by another restaurant. Below is the nightmare the owner Mr. Kevin Aksacki had to endure navigating the bureaucratic red tape of Glendale. As you read the plea of this business owner who has been in Glendale for 15 years employing over 30 employees and reaching the brink of losing everything. Please take a minute and contrast this small business owners situation with the uncaring, arrogant and aloof city Manager pretending to care only to proceed to demean, degrade, and insult. Below is the exchange.
Gauchos Village Inc.
135 North Maryland Av.
Glendale, CA – 91206
(818) 550-1430 Office
September 15, 2014
MR. MAYOR ZAREH SINANYAN
I SURVIVED THE RECESSION BUT NOT GLENDALE INSPECTION!
My name is Kevin Akcacki, President/Owner of Gauchos Village Brazilian Steakhouse. I have owned and operated Gauchos Village restaurant in Glendale for 15 years. I have had to relocated for three times due to large construction projects, finally to 135 N Maryland Ave. home to previous La Cuban restaurant.
Having been assured by the City’s redevelopment agency officials that the transition to this new location would go smoothly and believing that since the site had already housed a restaurant, there would be few if any regulatory requirements, my staff and I moved to the new location and were ready to open for business on August 6, 2014.
Sadly, it was not to be and I am frankly at a loss as to why we are still receiving conflicting compliance instructions from city staff and are still unable to open. Each week since notifying the city that we were ready for inspection and approval, city inspectors have come to the location and issued a list of required changes. Many were very expensive—an entire sprinkler system, for example, which cost $110,000. After its installation, the inspector informed us that we would not pass final inspection because we failed to treat areas of reclaimed woodwork. In fact, there is drywall behind the decorative woodwork as well as steel beams, which do not burn. Still not enough.
Each time my team and I would complete the list of required corrections and request a final inspection only to be handed a new list of requirements. In one instance, my contractor asked the city inspector why he had failed to mention a correction on his previous visit. He said, “Sorry. I have too much in my Rolodex.” Another time, we were told we had to fix the fire alarm horns, which we discovered subsequently have been inoperable since 2002 because the system is incompatible with the remainder of the building. During another inspection, we were told that we needed more strobe lights, too. To date, we still don’t have enough lights to pass final inspection.
More than 90% of U.S. employers are small businesses. I am one of them and I can assure you that to be subjected to this regulatory excess is a financial and emotional hardship that is completely unwarranted.
During this lengthy and painful inspection process, I continued to pay a staff of 42 employees until I frankly ran out of money. Now I have no restaurant and no experienced staff to rely on when I re-open Gauchos Village. As of October 1, I will be forced to default on my mortgage because I have been unable to generate revenue from my restaurant and have been forced to invest more than $300,000 in compliance efforts. I acted in good faith when I committed to staying in Glendale, although I had an opportunity to move to downtown L.A., where city official were eager to have me.
I am at a loss where to turn so I have decided to tell my story to anyone who will listen, including the news media, social media, friends, and business associates. I just want to re-open my restaurant, hire my staff back, and conduct my business in Glendale. Someone. Anyone. Please, please help.
For we can not continue to allow this abuse of power to destroy lives as It almost destroyed mine! I am here blowing the wistle of injustice against the Small Business such Owners such as me. It is time to put an end to Inspectors who’s Inspections and Corrections never comes to an end. You finish the first one, over a month later we continue getting a new one every week.
In the meantime I went from been the Owner of Gauchos Village Steak House to become a homeless for my situation got to a point that I am not capable of paying my Mortgage next month! All because someone wanted to abuse their power and I have never felt so hopeless, powerless in my entire life which have been a LIVING HELL since December when I was informed that I would have to move again and two of your inspectors really play the Musical Chair with us and I am now at the bottom of well.
It is funny to accept the fact that after 15 and half years later, creating jobs, paying taxes, bringing more costumers consequently more business to everyone in Glendale due to the name Gauchos Village, that the City would have some respect for US, our business and all that we stand for and made our transition smooth. Instead I experienced HELL. Run out of all my reserves, credits, money, credit cards, and my Health for I had to see a doctor due to the stress level that I had to endure!
Instead of helping, making it easier, your city charged double for every time I need a plan check that regularly would cost $2500.00, the City sells us the idea to pay DOUBLE to expedite the process which we paid, dreaming that the story was true, just to find out that it is all the hands of the Inspectors who play gods and keep everyone really scared of them. No supervision, and it is common knowledge among people that the ones who complain will forever regret for retaliations will be coming their ways.
I decided to do just that. Tell everyone my story. I have been berried alive and only when I realized that humiliating myself for the Inspectors “Mechanical and Fire” who have asked us for the impossible, crying for them my situation, was been completely ignored, I decided to go look for help. So I look up an Old Friend – Jeff Alpert – Great Officer, good heart that even has a hard time accepting that his coworker is evil. So I cryed to him as well and told him how scared I was of loosing my home due to his friends game!
Than I cryed to the Glendale Redevelopment people and there I found a great heart, person, Ellen who have really gone above and beyond trying to help. I also would like to thank you Officer Gabriel Raza for he also has shown great sympathy for my misfortune with the situation of my re-location. Yes, I cried everywhere, just to realized that I should start screaming and maybe I could make a difference if talking and crying was not doing the trick. And I did.
Who is gonna be responsible for all my losses? I don’t know. In the meantime, can you all help stop injustice? Not just with us, but with everyone else who will come after me. My story will be published by the way. Everyone needs to know my pain!
Gauchos Village Owner / President
Response of the City Manager Scott Ochoa
Response of the Owner to the City
September 30, 2014
Dear Mr. Ochoa:
Thank you for your letter dated September 19, 2014. I am disappointed in the inconsistencies and inaccuracies contained in your letter. As a business owner in Glendale for 13 years and as an employer in your city who has served and hired countless employees, I am very disappointed in the lack of integrity and professionalism on the part of the city of Glendale. Let me start by correcting your statement in the 2nd paragraph of your letter. I am NOT “embarking on a new business endeavor”. Gaucho’s Village has been operating successfully in your city since 2001.
Approximately 5- 10 times, I was encouraged by the City clerk to pay expedited fees of $2,500 to move matters along. I paid approximately $10,000 in expedited fees to the City of Glendale.
The entire tone of your letter is condescending and accusatory, beginning with “you were ill-prepared to tackle the conversion of the La Cubana space ….without a project manager and lacking close coordination with your contractor ….”. I retained a highly knowledgeable construction company who had worked on the building from its construction, “Daruzo Construction”. This contractor was recommended by our landlord.
They did an amazing job and complied with all requirements and timelines. By contrast, your inspector was uncooperative, disrespectful and perhaps even discriminatory. Inspector Ahern made inappropriate comments to be such as
“ we don’t care about the people behind the counter”.
This is not my first time dealing with either building or revamping a restaurant, Mr. Ochoa. I am not a novice to this business and to the City of Glendale. Over the numerous years, I have dealt with numerous city officials, in every capacity. Dealing
with city, building or fire inspectors is not new to me at all.
My frustration is specifically the way I was treated and how the behavior of your inspector caused delays in my opening my restaurant on schedule. Because of your Inspector, my opening was delayed until September 19th. I lost substantial revenue. My staff lost income. Many members of my staff obtained other jobs and did not return. No one benefited from the delay. The original open date was August 6th.
All my other inspections were conducted with a finite list of requirements. Your inspector, Greg Ahern, revised and added new items to the list at every turn. That is my frustration, Mr. Ochoa. Perhaps your team was inadequately prepared to conduct this specific inspection or perhaps you were understaffed.
If there is list of requirements for compliance, that list should not change weekly, bi weekly or daily based on the whim of a 1 minute walk-through. That is my frustration, Mr. Ochoa. Your inspector(s) gave us an apparent incomplete list every week. All other inspectors that I dealt with had a complete list that was not revised depending on the day and mood of the week. This inspector’s list was revised at least 5 times. That is unacceptable.
I have plenty of statements and evidence to support my frustration. One such example is: the ‘wood treatment’ was a new and recent item added to the ‘list’. When my contractor asked why that line item was not mentioned earlier during a prior inspection, Inspector Fire Marshall Gary Ahern’s cavalier response was “Sir, I have too much in my rolodex”. It’s unprofessional and aloof behavior like that is causing my frustration Mr. Ochoa. I am happy to provide you line item by line item about inappropriate and inadequate responses I was provided by your inspectors.
The remainder of my letter here will address your specific inaccurate statements:
“Failure to make noted corrections”: I complied with all requested corrections. The issue was that as a line-item was being corrected, a new line-item was being added at the last moment. So your statement is inaccurate. With every walk-through that was inspecting an item from an existing list, the inspector was making notations of things he was now noticing and therefore, adding more to the list. So to say I failed to make ‘noted corrections’ is inaccurate and misleading.
“Failed to return calls in a timely fashion”: I returned phone calls. However, I never imagined I would be place in a position where I would have to appear to ‘beg’ for assistance from the city. The City is not invested in my business, I am. I had every reason, personal, professional and financial to make sure that my restaurant opened on schedule. It did not because of the delays with your staff. “Requested Express Plan Check”: We were expressly told by your employees that if we paid an additional $2,500.00, the plans check would be expedited. I agreed and complied. The ‘express plan check’ was an absolute joke. Approximately $10,000 later, nothing was expedited and the opening of my restaurant was delayed by 6 weeks. Perhaps this is a new mechanism for the city to obtain revenue. We just
wasted a lot of money on Express Plan Checks and Expedited Inspections. At every step, your inspectors provided me with an updated and revised list of new items to be done. Perhaps a comprehensive, thorough and complete list from the start from your inspectors would have saved us all time and money.
“Allen Castillo”: Mr. Castillo was great. His work was consistent and professional. Stewart Tom did not return my phone calls. Phone records are easy enough to validate my statement. Also at the same level of Greatness and helpfullness I would like to mention Mr. Mark Berry from Redevelopment Agency, Mr. Gabriel Raza – Fire Department Plan Check, Jeff Alpert – Fire Department Chief located at Flower Street. Wish I could have met his boss Mr. Stewart Tom, but he did not return my calls. Never met the guy for when he came, I was home medicated due to Nervous Breakdown. The People mentioned above went above and beyond helping us to Open. We will forever be thankful for they show us they care!
“Temporary Certificate of Occupancy”: Your information is wrong. I was NOT seeking a TCO. The Redevelopment Agency reached out to me and said that although I had not passed the fire inspection, I would be provided a ‘temporary certificate of occupancy’. I had already passed all the inspections other than the inspection conducted by Greg Ahern. I was advised of my right to request an alternate inspector. I requested that Inspector Ahern to not return to my premises. Inspector Stuart Tom, came to the restaurant and within 4 days I had passed all inspections.
“New condenser units on the roof that needed to permits”: Essex Properties at The Exchange installed things on the roof without the proper permits. Why did the City no contact them ?
“Features that needed to be approved” : We complied with every line-item but as every inspection came up, new items were listed that I had to comply with ….my compliance with any issue has never been an issue for me. The problem I have in this particular case is the sloppy and unprofessional manner in which my specific inspection was conducted. The “wood treatment” that you refer was not on an original list; it was an after though and appeared on a new and improved revised inspection list.
“The final episode involving Fire/Life Safety”: Mr. Ochoa, a PARCEL of the restaurant was the only area in the entire building that has been operating not according to ‘code’ since 2002. This information is according to the company that services and tests the Building Fire Systems together with the Fire Marshals every year and sometimes twice a year.
I have a recorded video of the individual in charge of its maintenance saying just the following: “The reason why the HORNS DID NOT SOUND in our area was due to the fact that the equipment installed in this parcel was not comparable with the rest of the entire building –since 2002.” How can this happen and go undetected since 2002? The building had been passing inspection since 2002 although it was not up to code. I repeat, the horns in the building in that parcel had not been functioning since 2002. Yet miraculously, La Cubana and prior businesses had managed to operate and open their business. How is it that only in 2014 did it fail inspection? How was La Cubana or any other restaurant in that location since 2002 passed inspection if this horn hadn’t sounded since 2002.
To add insult to injury, when your inspector did the walk-through and noted that the horns were not functioning, he failed to mention, on the same visit, that more strobe lights were needed. When he returned to check on the now working horns, only then did he mention that we needed more strobe lights. When the horns were working and passed inspection, I was then told that we needed more strobe lights. However, a few weeks earlier, strobe lights were never mentioned. Perhaps your office can you provide a list of inspections and people who signed off on the inspections on a piece of equipment that was not working properly since 2002?
The City plan checkers, Inspectors and your project managers were not here to ‘assist’ me in the process. Other than few exceptional employees from your office, your office created more hindrances and impediments to my opening my restaurant in a timely manner. For you to state “make no mistake, our staff are there to help you and guide you with this work—not actually do the work for you” is insulting, degrading and hostile. Once again, Mr. Ochoa, no business owner in Glendale should be treated as I was in this process. Your letter serves written proof of the arrogance and cavalier attitude that I experienced by the City of Glendale.
“The City of Glendale employees provided me with exceptional customer service”: Your employees sold me one Expedited Service after another, new line-items at the end of every inspection and inappropriate comments. If this is ‘exceptional customer service’, I hate to know what substandard customer service is on behalf of the City of Glendale.
Mr. Ochoa, I have been doing business in Glendale for longer than you have been the City Manager of Glendale. Had I wanted to discourage potential patrons, investors and entrepreneurs from coming to Glendale, I would have moved my restaurant away from Glendale long ago. I have a right to express my frustration about the City to you, to the city and the public. My statements and my complaints are truthful and accurate.
Finally, if the City deems it appropriate to ‘reciprocate’ (an interesting choice of words in and of itself) by “publishing a blow-by-blow recounting my shortcomings”, please do so. I am unsure if your tone is intended to be threatening and retaliatory. However, please proceed as you wish. By the way with 236K/ year + benefit, I guess I was just dreaming with hopes that you would understand. Your response and treatment simply shocks me ….
You manage to call all of us IDIOTS (Me, my GM Mrs. Areta Holish – Gauchos Village GM. Ricardo Aksacki – Gauchos Village Mgr, Samya Caran – Gauchos Village Supervisor, Devon Pulson Gauchos Village Interior Designer, Jerome Jullian Gauchos Village Architect, Robert Gauchos Village Kitchen and Bar Design Specialist, etc…with soft words, but you did. However I bellieve the Public will be the judge of who is more of an IDIOT among the two of us!
We by playing by the rules, opening businessess, creating jobs, paying taxes so the City can pay you a Ridiculous amount of money, from taxes of business like us, that you call Incompetent, or You for calling us unprepared to handle a remodel of an existing space / restaurant, people who contribute with paying your sallary?
We didn’t expect any special treatment, but only for you to understand and support us making sure there is ALWAYS supervision over your staff in order to prevent abuse of Power as it happens ALL THE TIME. The idea was not for you to reply and call us IDIOTS but to investigate and help and protect the ones who pay your salary from been abused by inspectors who suffer from IM GOD SINDROME.
The idea was to hope that you would investigate all my comments and act upon it, instead, you just ignored everything that was presented to you and you call us unprepared to handle such a simple task. But I understand, for you all might have huge sallaries to protect and accepting wrong doing it could afect your nice salary, therefore, putting the blame on us is always the best way out possible!
Shame on you Mr. Manager. Conscious is something that we have to live with and I hope you will be able to manage living with yours! Maybe if your Salary wasn’t so absurdly high, the city would have more money to pay additional City Inspectors, this way we Business Owners would not have to pay the price for your Inspectors having TOO MUCH IN THEIR ROLEDEX. Would you like to know how much each week that went by costs us? Please let us know!
Gauchos Village Inc.
President / Owner