Monday, May 10, 2010

Chelsea Holeman FINAL

Health violations don't scare Normanites

Theoretically, if a common person found out there were bugs, hairs, or toenails in their food, they’d stop eating it. Theoretically, such things would earn a health violation for the guilty restaurant and patrons would be driven away by the information. But when put to the test, these theories cannot stand alone in the real world. It seems that most people will overlook the dark side of cheap restaurants in exchange for their convenience.

“I don’t really have time to care if a fast food restaurant has a lot of food violations,” said Katy Dietz, OU junior and frequent fast food patron, “All I’m thinking is ‘Ok, Taco Bell is on the way home and I like their burritos.’ ”

Dietz isn’t the only one willing to forget the unspoken horrors of fast food. Lines snake around Taco Bells and McDonalds religiously every night around dinner. And yet, according to, an online site that lists a restaurant’s inspection violations, both Taco Bell and McDonalds had over 150 and up to 300 violations, several of which relate directly to food born illnesses. Both restaurants declined to comment.

“If you’ve gotten food poisoning before, you know how serious it is. You’re more likely to not visit that restaurant again. But everyone else who knows about it but hasn’t experienced it just assumes it’ll never happen to them,” said Daniel Dukes, store manger for Raising Cane’s. Dukes said he enforces the health code policy by having his team members clean as they go rather than try to clean at the end of the night.

According to a facts sheet provided by the Cleveland County Health Department, a health inspection report numbers the most important violations from one to twenty one. If any of those first twenty one are violated, it relates directly to the safety and health of the food served. “We can warn them, we can fine them, we can punish them, we can even shut them down,” said K.C. Ely, representative for environmental services at the Cleveland County Health Department, “but in the end, it comes down to how the manager enforces food safety.”

Dennis England, co-owner of Sugar Bakery, said he thinks that some of the violations are unnecessary and should be reformed. “Sometimes I think that it’s just some Fed in the Capitol who thinks they need to throw another law down to make themselves look better.” When England and his wife Christie first opened their bakery, their representative from the health department said they needed to change the green walls of their kitchen because it wasn’t ‘standard’. “I think she was just having a power trip that day,” said England.

Ely said that all of the violations are in place for a reason, and that repealing one would only lead to more people wanting more laws changed or removed. “We don’t sit in a room and think of ways to hurt small businesses. We’re run by the FDA, and these are national regulations.”

Dukes agrees that the rules are necessary, and adds that his business stands out because of them. “People notice when the restaurant they’re in is cleaner than what they’re used to. Our customers keep coming back because they feel comfortable and they know they’re getting a quality, clean product.”

Dietz said, “I mean, if there was a hair or a bug part in it, then maybe I’d stop eating it for a while. As long as it tastes good and I’m not throwing up later, I could care less if it’s been cooked properly.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Emily White talks of why she likes working at McNellies and how it is unique from other Norman bars.

McNellies Hopes to be Norman Legend

"You're not coming here to get a bud light lime and get drunk with your girlfriends." said Chris Schroeder, OU student and novice beer connoisseur. McNellies is a popular bar among Oklahoma beer enthusiasts for offering many international beers on tap. Emily White, bartender and shift manager at the Norman location, said they felt it was high time to spread the wealth to Normanites. "I think a lot of people came from Tulsa and knew about us, so they're telling all of their Norman friends."

"I'm in here most pint nights to see what they're offering and to expand my horizons," said Schroeder. The pub and grill offers over 200 kinds of beer, 30 of which are on tap. It also boasts a true pub atmosphere, with a relaxed and friendly environment. White said the atmosphere is one of her favorite reasons for working here. "It's nice not having to deal with people who just want to get drunk off a cheap beer, who are actually here to enjoy it." said White.

Crowded on a Tuesday night, the bar seems to already have skyrocketed in popularity. But White said the pub is doing many things to get more Norman citizens in the door. "Our pint nights and three dollar burger nights really draw in the college crowd." And being the only pub of it's kind in Norman, White said this bar seems well on it's way to legendary proportions. "We're not on the level of the Tulsa bar just yet, but they better watch out, cause we're sure as heck gonna be."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Summerside Winery

Local Winery Can't Find It's Roots

Ten years ago, a winery in Oklahoma would have only been a figment of Marsha Butler’s imagination. Known for their strict command on alcohol, Oklahoma liquor laws prevented any Oklahoman from starting their own winery until they were repealed in 2000. “We were so tired of our desk jobs, and we saw that the law had been repealed, so we decided to jump on the opportunity to open a winery,” said Butler. But now, more liquor laws may stand in their way of becoming a success.

The Butlers count their blessings, however. In 2004, a law was repealed that prevented Oklahoma liquor vendors from shipping their liquor outside the state. The Butlers previously skirted around this by taking their liquor to out-of-state festivals, in hopes that it would bring customers to their winery for more. “When you’re first introducing your brand, festivals just seem like the best solution,” said Shirley.

Butler said she feels the next hurdle will be getting wine into grocery stores. “People from others states laugh at us,” she said, “They just go ‘Well, that’s Oklahoma for you.’ ” The Butlers actively fight the prohibition of liquor in Oklahoma, and they ask that those on their side visit to help lift the strict shipping laws. Butler hopes lifting these laws will bring the cultural sigh of relief Oklahoma desperately needs.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The International Pantry Bit Off More Than It Could Chew

A crowded cooking class watches as Chef Robert Black makes Scotch Eggs.

Jocelyn Wall underestimated the boom her business would experience. “I never expected it to get so popular,” she said over the many conversations happening in last Thursday’s cooking class. The 28 seats were almost full, which caused its guests to be quite territorial. One woman refused a young couple’s request to sit next to her because she was "saving seats for her friends.” Wall said the class, hosted once a week, is almost always packed. “I even let people stand sometimes. Any business is good business.”

Despite their popularity, Wall said the International Pantry may not be able to handle growth anytime soon. Wall currently acts as manager and owner while her store manager heals from a serious car accident. Wall adds that finding part-time workers also presents its own challenge. “So many young people in Norman are transients, so once you get them fully trained, they have to leave again.”

Robert Black, Chef at Iron Starr Bar-B-Q and perpetual teacher of the classes, said he feels the price of success is worth it. “Yeah, it may be a little crowded, but we’re able to give families something to cook other than meatloaf. It’s also more cost-effective than going out for that same meal.” Classes cost 25 to 35 dollars a person. Dates and menus for each cooking class can be found at .

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Different Kind of Sugar

Sugar Custom Cake Shop is the bakery that refuses to be like any other. "Everyone comes to a bakery and wants all kinds of dessert stuff," said owner Christie England, "This is what I know how to make, and I'm sticking to it." White Castle burgers, odes to Mad Men, and telephone booths are just some of the creations produced at Sugar. "If you want to do something creative and off the wall, this is the place," said England.

Even though the bakery has only been open since November, new customers are coming in daily with strange orders for the sugar artists. "People like to get pretty creative with their requests, and we spend the time to make it right," said England. England said their strangest cake was an armadillo run down by a motorcycle. Claire Dwyer Lee is a customer of the bakery, and she ordered a Mad Men themed cake for her husband's 30th birthday. "Other bakery cakes look good but taste boxed, and some cakes taste great but aren't as pretty," said Lee, "I just know Sugar is creative and I trusted they would do a really good job."

This trendy, forward-thinking cake shop has also taken advantage of one the best forms of free advertisement; social networking. Their Facebook fan page has pictures of all of their cake creations, as well as photos, fan comments, and notifications of events and bakery specials. "Facebook has just done wonders [for us]," said England. And with over three thousand fans, this business seems like it's well on its way to success.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Debit Hangover

Campus Corner has been a popular nighttime destination in Norman for decades.

Signs advertising daily discounts can be found outside of almost any Norman bar.

“If they want to, college kids can drink cheaply all day long,” said John Howell, manager at Blu Fine Wine and Food. And, for the most part, he’s right. Adults age 19 to 25 often take their tiny paychecks straight to the bars, priding themselves on finding two very important things; discounts and a good time. And yet, the two are seemingly unable to coexist in todays clubs and bars. Josh Brimer, a senior at OU and active member of Delta Upsilon fraternity, said that he rarely looks at the number on his bill at the end of the night. “I just hand over my debit card and sign my name when I get it back.”

Countless online articles rail early Twenty Somethings for spending their entire paychecks on restaurants and bars. said that the age group spends as much as 200 dollars a week on alcohol alone. The Baby Boomers would be aghast at such a price tag. According to a 1970 Census, the average beer in their day costed 37.5 cents. For men, who WebMD said will be legally drunk after about five beers, that’s a whopping 2 dollars tab. Howell said he knows what is changing. “If you go to a bar and buy an Absolut Soda for 10 bucks, and you and your date have three drinks each, you get a 60 dollar bar tab and don’t even have a buzz. You wonder, ‘How have I spent that much?’ It’s because we have to pay our rent.”

With the rise in popularity of the ultra modern, ultra hip lounge bars, comes a rise in drink prices. Manager Hunter Mankin of Seven47 said that their customers often don’t realize how much money went into creating the upscale atmosphere of the club. “We have six flat screen TVs, all with a separate cable box. Those aren’t free. Neither is the modern leather seating or the cleaning crew or the track lights.” Howell said the million-dollar atmosphere created is often only unconsciously evaluated, and patrons only go as far as liking or disliking it.

Howell explained that, in business 101 terms, bars often take a large sum of money to build an upscale environment, and they jack up the prices on drinks to pay that money back. Mark Graves, assistant manager at Cellars Wine and Spirits, said he doesn’t see the logic in spending 20 dollars on two drinks just for the atmosphere. “I could spend 200 dollars [at Cellars], then throw a party at home for me and all of my friends, and still have a lot left over.”

Also, the cost of getting a drink to a customer’s table is summed up in one word; taxes. Howell goes into depth about all of the taxes he must pay to get alcohol to Blu. He said there are shipping fees, taxes for storing the liquor in warehouses, taxes for bartering the liquor overseas, taxes for sending it on a train, fees for sending it from one store to another, and an Oklahoma-specific tax that is five percent higher for liquor than food. “It’s a miracle that for a little over five dollars, you can have a 20 oz pint of beer, considering what it took to get it here,” he said.

While the state Liquor Control Board shows that drink prices have increased the most in the last 10 years, Mankin said he’s only noticed a definite change in spending since the economy crashed. “People used to spend 50 to 100 dollars a night, and now the average bar tab is around 20 dollars.” Makin also noticed that lately, Campus Corner isn’t popular until two hours later than normal; around 12:45 or 1 a.m. “In the [fraternity] house,” Brimer said,” most guys will go to someone’s place, do shots, drink a bunch of cheap beer with their date, and then just go to the bars to dance. They don’t really drink a whole lot while they’re out.”

Makin says this is the best way to save money when a twenty something wants to have a good time. “I know our drinks are pricey, but you’re not coming here for that. Do what you need to do before you get here, then we’ll provide the music, food, and atmosphere you can’t get at home.”

Howell disagrees. He said that the best way to avoid overspending is to pay with cash, because the money a customer spends is more tangible. And he adds that, even though it seems “grandma-y”, searching the local paper or event magazine for drink specials is the best way to keep a bar tab down to the minimum. “Everyone’s got the same mousetraps to get you in the door. As long as you take advantage of those, and only those, you’ve got six ways to Tuesday to have a good night.”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Everyone’s heard the old moniker “Adapt or die”. Its necessity created a mainstream in which many big fish swim comfortably, and all smaller fish stayed out of the way or inevitably succumbed to the circle of life. In the way of groceries, organic produce is standing the test of mainstream life. Teetering between the ease of convenience and the ethics of sustainability, many Oklahomans work to find ways to make their products more accessible to a superstore world.

Kathy Downing and her husband own a sustainable ranch near Tulsa, and said that selling food cheaply is difficult because they are a small, family run business. “We just can’t afford to charge the same prices as the industrial farms,” she said, “but at the same time, we don’t want to take the ethical shortcuts they do to be able to offer that price.” Downing said that she feels the extra price is worth it, to save yourself from all of the toxins you’d put in your body if you ate industrial meats.

“It’s really hard for a kid in college with no money to buy 7 dollar loafs of bread every week,’ says Roger Sawkins, a senior at OU. The price seems to have been a main deterrent for many who wish to purchase sustainable foods. Sara Kaplan, co-owner of Native Roots Market, says that she thinks that for some, it will always come down to price. “But if they truly care about their health, it will save them money in the long run,” she adds.

Doug Rader, an employee of Native Roots since it’s opening, said he definitely notices a difference between the regulars and the ones who only come in sporadically. “Those that buy food unprocessed and unpackaged, they’re the ones that have the best skin, they’re the ones that have the most energy, they’re the ones who aren’t as sick as often,” he said. When asked about his own eating habits, he confessed to still enjoying resteraunts and fast food every once in a while. “Late at night we don’t have any options except for Taco Bell, McDonalds, and I-HOP, so it’s difficult to work organics into that,” he said.

The sustainability committee at the University of Oklahoma noticed this problem as well, and decided to be the ones who ignite change. Along with many other green efforts across the campus, they began buying the eggs and meats from local farmers, such as the Downing family. Downing said, “It’s been great working with a major client like OU, but of course we’re so excited that we get to be apart of improving the quality of the food those kids eat every day.”

Kaplan said they are taking steps to improve the convenience of organic foods as well. "We've just begun selling frozen organic pizzas made by a friend of mine," she said. Rader said he thinks this is a good way to ease people into the organic mindset. "It hopefully helps them say 'Hey, organic pizza really isn't that hard to make', and then hopefully they'll make it a part of their everyday lives."

Rader also said he thinks that for organic foods to become mainstream, shoppers will need to change the way they view food selection. "People are so used to going to megamarts and getting everything in one store and having it look fresh," he said, "but they need to remember that, in nature, fruits and nuts and berries and buffalo are never found in the same pasture." Hopefully, he said, we can reclaim our roots to nature and become better, healthier, happier people.