Officials with the city of Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma City/County Health Department and the ABLE Commission are defending their raid on an inaugural nighttime food market against critics who say the enforcement was selective and heavy-handed.
The raid started about 8:30 p.m. Friday, just 30 minutes after the market, dubbed “H&8th,” started up in the parking lot of Elemental Coffee, 815 N Hudson.
A large crowd that included City Manager Jim Couch was surprised to see a force of inspectors, ABLE agents, police, fire and code enforcement officers descend on an event that consisted of three food trucks, a beer trailer, the coffee shop and nearby Ludivine Restaurant.
Organizers admit they held the market despite being rejected for an outdoor event permit. Other violations are in dispute.
One food truck, owned by Big Truck Tacos, was shut down because it didn't have the right license posted; another, the Munch Box, was shut down because inspectors said it had no working electricity or refrigeration, and a cart run by Hugo's was shut down because it lacked proper screening. Both the Munchbox and Big Truck Tacos dispute the reasons used to shut them down.
Ludivine, meanwhile, was cited for having a box of wine outside the restaurant's hallway.
‘This was a shakedown'
“There were things done wrong (by event organizers),” Ludivine owner Jonathan Stranger said. “But the show of force was insane … this was a shakedown.”
Records show the sweep on the market involved 27 people; 16 inspectors with the Oklahoma City/County Health Department, three agents with the ABLE Commission, two Oklahoma City licensing inspectors, two Oklahoma City electrical inspectors, two Oklahoma City code inspectors, an Oklahoma City police officer and an inspector with the Oklahoma City Fire
Vicki Monks, health department spokeswoman, said no coordination took place between her agency, ABLE and the Oklahoma City inspectors, and the enforcement action taken by her agency's inspectors was a last-minute decision spurred by coverage of H&8th in The Oklahoman on Friday.
She said the 16 health inspectors were traveling together so that they could “spread out” and inspect food trucks in south Oklahoma City after stopping at the market.
Monks said inspectors' only concern was ensuring food being served to customers was safe.
John Maisch, legal counsel for ABLE, said his agents were only checking to ensure proper licensing and procedures were being followed by Ludivine.
H&8th was organized by Stranger, Elemental Coffee owner Laura Massenat and J.D. Merryweather, a co-owner of COOP Ale Works, with the intention of promoting the emerging MidTown neighborhood.
Visitor speaks out
Brian Bates, who visited the market with his wife, noted people had started gathering about an hour before it was set to begin.
“A dozen or so people were able to get food from Big Truck and the other vendors when several city vehicles pulled up and an unbelievable number of city/county employees descended upon the event,” Bates said. “Some appeared to be ABLE employees as they were armed. They moved straight in on the trucks and shut them down literally immediately — as if they knew in advance what they would find and the goal was to stop the event as soon as possible.”
Another customer, Josiah Daniel, arrived about 8 p.m. with his wife and two children and saw ABLE agents talking to Laura Massenat, owner of Elemental Coffee, and Kyle Fleishfresser, Ludivine's bar manager, by the COOP Ale trailer at the market. He said the health inspectors arrived shortly afterward in what he called a “SWAT Team” descent on the market. Daniel said he tried to talk to about 10 of the health inspectors as they gathered near a “Keep it Local” table at the market.