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Cafe is clean, but biz falters - Brooklyn Paper

Cafe is clean, but biz falters

Nadir Khelifi, owner of Cafe Lafayette on South Portland Avenue in Fort Greene, may be forced to close, thanks to an unclean bill of health that the city slapped on the former owners. The restaurant is spic and span now, says the city, but Khelifi’s business has not returned.
The Brooklyn Paper / Julie Rosenberg

A Fort Greene restaurant whose reputation was poisoned after it popped up on a politician’s “dirtiest-restaurant” list two years ago, has cleaned up its act, yet remains on the verge of death.

If business doesn’t pick up by January, Cafe Lafayette, a French boite between Gardel’s Four Seasons and Habana Outpost on S. Portland Street, will close.

“The Cafe was never able to come back,” said Nadir Khelifi, the French-Algerian restaurateur who bought the eatery in 2005, three months after state Sen. Jeff Klein (D–Bronx) named it one of the 10 dirtiest restaurants in the city.

Klein’s goal was to get the Department of Health to replace its somewhat-confusing rating system — which assigns points for each infraction — with a simple A-through-F grading scale. At the time of Klein’s notorious list, Cafe Lafayette had failed a health inspection due to “inadequate hand-washing facilities,” “evidence of/or live mice,” “flying insects in food areas,” and “dirty food contact surfaces.” Klein called that an “F” grade, prompting the bistro’s owners to sell to Khelifi, who cleaned house (and kitchen).

Indeed, the Health Department cited the cafe for only nine points worth of infractions during its last inspection in November — far below the 28-point failure threshold.

Even so, Khelifi, a Carroll Gardens resident, says his business is no longer viable. If things don’t change by year’s end, he will close, and then reopen under a new name and with a new concept. One option he’s considering would a “little sister” restaurant to the new Moroccan tapas lounge he’s managing on DeKalb Avenue, between Adelphi Street and Clermont Avenue, in the old Liquors space.

DK Holland, a local eater and a branding consultant, said that a rebranding of the restaurant, which sits between Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue, would be a good move.

“Reputation is huge, and when you lose your reputation you’ve lost everything,” said Holland.

“That’s what happened with A Table [the predecessor to Olea on Lafayette Avenue] — deservedly so because of their service, and lack of consistency. Word of mouth is how people operate in a community.”

Klein told The Stoop that while his intent was not to shut down restaurants, he’s not exactly crying in his steak frites about the impending closure of Cafe Lafayette.

“There’s no excuse for someone who runs a restaurant to have an establishment that’s unsanitary or unclean,” he said.

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