Doctor's Inn dining room may close after Health department warning

Eric McCarthy
Published on June 12, 2014
Jean Offer whips up a salad for her husband Paul. The kitchen where she prepares the meal is the same one that she uses to prepare meals for guests to the couple's private dining room. Environmental Health has advised them they will not be able to continue that practice after this year.

TYNE VALLEY --  A Tyne Valley dining room that's been listed in Where to Eat in Canada may be closing down in October because of rules that differ between serving guests of a bed and breakfast and serving food to people who are not overnight guests.

Paul and Jean Offer have been operating a private dining facility out of their home for more than 30 years. For many of those years, it ran in conjunction with their bed and breakfast operation, The Doctor's Inn.

The Offers were initially advised by an environmental health officer last month that they could no longer provide a private dining service in their home because there was no clear separation between their public food service and their daily living service.

Essentially, they prepare their own meals in the same kitchen that they use to prepare meals for their guests.

Environmental Health subsequently agreed to allow the Offers to continue with their private dining room until October, but the couple is not ready to draw the curtain on their service just yet.

“I can see the Department of Health’s stance on this, but, there’s that word called common sense, which there seems to be a great lack of in a lot of cases,” Paul Offer lamented.

The couple notes that if they were still operating a bed and breakfast out of their home they would be allowed to serve meals to their overnight guests, but not to members of the travelling public who are not staying with them.

Their official letter on the department’s ruling arrived on the same day that they received their sticker from Where to Eat in Canada.

“I call that a conundrum” Jean commented.

And just days after being advised of Environmental Health’s ruling, the Offers’ kitchen passed an inspection allowing it to continue to prepare foods like jams, jellies and pickles for the booth they staff at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market. Jean said she considers that a conundrum, too.

“It is a person’s private home. There can be considerable traffic,” Joe Bradley, manager of environmental health, said in explaining why the department seeks a clear separation between daily living and food service facilities.

He acknowledged there is an exemption in place which allows bed and breakfast facilities to serve their guests without adhering to that separation, but stressed that does not apply to private dining.

Children, pets and bringing in matter on clothing and footwear from a farming environment, he noted, are all sources of potential contaminants.

“If they were simply operating as a B&B and serving food to their overnight guests only, they would be exempted, but if they continue to offer the dining experience that they are now, we would have to consider them a dining room,” he stressed.

Bradley acknowledges the new regulations are still only in draft form, but he said the department, through the Public Health Act, could have stuck with its original order to close the dining room immediately, as issued in May. Because of advertising and other expenses the Offers already incurred, he said his department agreed to allow them to continue operating until October.

The couple accepts only one dinner reservation per day and require at least 24 hours notice. That, Jean said, is so they can obtain fresh ingredients for their group of one to six people. They served 50 meals last year, she said. They provide many of their own herbs and vegetables.

Lynden Ellis has been a regular customer at the Offers’ Doctor’s Inn dining room. He reacted angrily to news that they might not be allowed to continue their operation after this year.

“I was just sick when I heard that,” he said.

“That is a really, really good place to eat. Anytime people come home I try to take them,” he said, explaining he reserves a table at least twice a year.

Ellis said he is not concerned about the meal being prepared in the same kitchen the Offers use for preparing their own meals.

“Why would you be concerned? You can see exactly what they’re doing. Everything is just hunky-dory.”

While the Offers indicate they hope to appeal the ruling, Bradley said there is no actual appeal process under the Public Health Act. He did indicate, though, that his department is certainly open to further discussion on the matter.

The Offers acknowledge they could get around the new regulations by getting back into the bed and breakfast business, but know that would mean they could only serve their B&B guests.