Seattle kitchen nightmare? On Wednesday night, a cook at the acclaimed Capitol Hill restaurant Nue publicly accused her employers of unsanitary practices, not long after she was fired on her first official day on the job. Quinndolyn Harley — who worked at the recently closed Poppy, and has eight years of restaurant experience — posted photos on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and Facebook of what she said was “raw lamb being thawed in the mop sink” and “dirty knives used and then hung up again” in Nue’s kitchen during her shift. She also says she witnessed “saute pans not washed until the end of service” and raw chicken “being cut and prepped in the dish area.” Some of the social media posts have since been deleted, but the Facebook post remains up.
Nue quickly pushed back on Twitter, pointing to its excellent safety record, while also lobbing accusations about Harley’s tardiness and attitude.
Tonight was Quinndolyn's first shift and she showed up 30min late. She was very critical of us and our staff, despite that we have Excellent Health rating and great reviews. We decided she was not a good fit for Nue. She then threatened us and made a scene with our customers.
— Nue Seattle (@NueSeattle) August 8, 2019
But that only seemed to fan the flames, as many — including renowned California chef J. Kenji Lopez-Alt — wondered why the restaurant didn’t directly address what was in the photos or any of Harley’s observations.
I don’t know who runs your social media, but I hope you understand this tweet confirms that A) this nasty stuff is definitely going on in your kitchen and more importantly B) you are literally saying you fired an employee for being critical of your health/safety practices. Think. https://t.co/jCyLUDA122
— J. Kenji “Individual Fun” López-Alt (@kenjilopezalt) August 8, 2019
“The raw meat seen [in one photo] was defrosted in vacuum-sealed bags under cold running water, in a sterilized Cambro [this type of container], as per health code regulations,” owner Chris Cvetkovich tells Eater Seattle. “This Cambro was then transferred to our mop sink temporarily while still under cold running water as we were clearing space to wash the vessel they were to be stored in.” He says the photo was an example of “bad timing for someone wanting to spread a malicious rumor,” but claims it was not an egregious code violation.
“As for the raw chicken being prepped near clean dishes, this has never occurred at our establishment,” he says.
An inspector at the King County Health Department tells Eater Seattle that it followed up on recent complaints related to Nue and visited the restaurant on Friday afternoon: “During the course of inspecting, minor food issues were addressed in real time, but appropriate enforcement action was not necessary, as the issues did not rise to that level.”
A rep for the department also notes that “over the last four routine inspections” before this one, Nue “has had very few critical violations, earning them an excellent rating.” The newest inspection report can be found here.
While Harley suggests that she was merely pointing out issues in the kitchen that she felt needed to be addressed immediately, Cvetkovich offers a different perspective. “Her skills were satisfactory and we did not take issue with her abilities on the line,” he says. “What did bother us was her attitude and consistent negativity towards our operating procedures and staff. Although we do encourage constructive criticism, there is an appropriate time and place, and the middle of a happy hour rush is not one of them.”
For her part, Harley stands by her story. She says that she voiced her concerns about certain conditions to the sous chef and executive chef when she first saw them during her shift, but they either ignored her complaints or shut her down. She claims the executive chef told her she was “just trying to stir up trouble.” While she considered waiting until after service was over to hash things out, Harley claims that seeing raw protein handled a certain way raised too many alarms. “This was a new job and I wanted to make sure things were done right,” she says.
Harley also defends her decision to post her experience on social media. She originally snapped the photos in question during her shift, she says (not after she was fired and collecting her things), originally intending to send them to the Nue owners. But Harley felt that posting visual proof would hopefully spur some action and lead to improved conditions. Plus, Harley — who says she was originally hired as head line cook with the understanding that she could work her way up to sous chef eventually — claims the executive chef told her to “be careful who I mess with in this town, because it’s really easy to ruin a reputation.” So she wanted to preemptively explain herself. “I was not trying to fuck them over. I was trying to help them.”
But Cvetkovich says Harley’s actions were out of line. “There are systems we have in place for just these issues were they real, yet no clear avenues for businesses to contest the Fake News politics of people determined to bring down others,” he says. “My wife and I have already spent hours trying to put out the fires caused by these artificial accusations and still don’t know what long term damage, if any, they will cause. Twitter has refused to remove the content, Google has not responded, Yelp has said they look fake and that their ‘algorithm will probably take care of it,’ Reddit is Reddit, and who knows where else this has been taken to.
“That a worker can spend three hours in an establishment that has worked so hard for five years and make such a negative impact such as Quinndolyn has through social media in less than a day may be a sign of the times we live in, but unjustifiable and sad nonetheless.”
It didn’t take long for Harley to get a new job. She tells Eater Seattle that she starts work as a cook at the highly respected Pioneer Square restaurant London Plane this weekend.
UPDATED, Aug 9, 2019, 4:45: This story has been updated with information about the follow-up inspection at Nue, new quotes from the King County Health Department, and a link to the new inspection report.