Blaming the messenger 

O'Charley's banishes editor, lawyer over health department report
Putnam Pit police reporter
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (Sept. 15, 1997) -- An irate restaurant manager who alleged that a Putnam Pit  article about state health inspections was "all lies" and called police on the paper's editor and lawyer may soon have to eat her words -- in court.
Four police cars responded Friday night, Sept. 12, to a reported disturbance at O'Charley's restaurant, 1401 Interstate Dr., when two lawyers and an editor had a run-in with the restaurant management.

Putnam Pit editor Geoff Davidian, Cookeville attorneys Samuel J. Harris and Chantal Eldridge and a Nashville computer technician had gathered to dine and socialize at the eatery when employees became aware of an article in the August issue of The Putnam Pit, stating that O'Charley's received 78 out of a possible 100 points in a state health department inspection. Davidian had given copies of the issue to a restaurant employee who asked for one, and to several customers.

A witnesses who asked not to be named told The Pit  that servers at the establishment refused to bring food or drinks to anyone at the table after management read the two-page article. The article, by Pit consumer reporter Renee Hodges, reported on the scores given to dozens of Putnam County restaurants over several months. According to The Pit article, the state found that O'Charley's employees did not practice good hygiene and cited 11 other violations.

To retaliate, the restaurant has barred Davidian and Harris from eating there again.

"The situation was handled very poorly by the management," the witness said, noting that Harris was not even there when Davidian distributed The Pit to several patrons.

A manager at O'Charley's declined to comment.

Harris alleges that a female manager at O'Charley's, who would not reveal her name, became irate and alleged that the article, titled "State bites the hand that feeds you," was "all lies."

Harris said that he tried to explain to the employees that the state health report is a matter of public record. A manager who gave only his first name as "Drew" told those at the table he was going to make a copy of the "real" inspection report in order to clarify the situation. He never produced the "real" report.

However, The Pit learned on Monday (Sept. 15) that while O'Charley's prominently posted the survey result of 98 out of a possible 100 for its bar, which is inspected separately, the report for its restaurant was partially covered by another piece of paper that obscured the score of 87 the establishment received after it corrected its two critical violations.

State Environmentalist Jimmy Ashburn, who inspects local restaurants, said that The Pit's reporting was correct, and that citizens can swear out a warrant against establishments that obscure or fail to produce health department restaurant surveys.

Even knowing the real score, Davidian and Harris chose to go to O'Charley's. Harris said that if the dinner party had thought O'Charley's was unclean they would not be eating there.

Harris said he asked the restaurant's management whether they had ever asked Davidian to quit passing out The Pit.

 "He probably would have," speculated Harris.

Harris said the man who identified himself as Drew later invited Harris back to the table and said the restaurant would serve the party after all, but the other manager, who later banished Davidian and Harris, meanwhile had called police and four squad care pulled up outside.

 Cookeville Police Chief Bill Benson told The Pit the officers  were responding to a disturbance complaint from the manager.

To avoid further problems, Davidian and Harris left by walking right past the four squads that responded.

As police arrived, the two men walked across the street to Logan's Roadhouse, where there was no more trouble.

No police report was filed, Benson said.

The article, "State bites hand that feeds you," erred in one significant way it failed to also warn that the hand that feeds you at O'Charley's might also bite you.

Joe Ferguson, a state health inspector, said he visited O'Charley's on Tuesday and that the inspection report was visible.


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