Raleigh’s Wahlburgers closed in December after a last-chance health inspection revealed the water in the restaurant’s dishwasher couldn’t reach the required temperature, according to inspection reports with the Wake County Department of Environmental Services.
The franchise of the celebrity burger company, open just seven months on Fayetteville Street, was shut down by the Environmental Services department following a series of warnings about food safety issues, which included months of water that wasn’t hot enough.
The health department ordered the restaurant to close after the last failed inspection Dec. 17, according to public records. At that time, the dishwasher water used to sanitize dirty dishes reached 52 degrees. Water must be 120 degrees to pass, according to county and state regulations.
That inspection followed three other failed inspections between November and December with similar hot water issues, according to county records.
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“Having hot water helps control risk factors, items that contribute to foodborne illness,” said Ashley Whittington, section chief overseeing Wake County restaurant inspections, in a phone interview.
Wahlburgers, with locations across the country, was launched by the Wahlberg family, which includes actor Mark Wahlberg and singer-actor Donnie Wahlberg.
The Raleigh location was anticipated after a two-year buildup. It was a franchise that’s part of a group called Carolina Burgers, owned by franchisee Greg Pranzo, and includes a location in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Pranzo, who declined to comment when the restaurant’s closing was announced Dec. 28, also did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
A corporate spokesperson said the Myrtle Beach location temporarily is closing while it "refreshes for the spring," The Sun News reported Sunday.
A spokesperson for the corporate Wahlburgers company emphasized the independence of its franchises and said it is investigating the closing of the Raleigh location.
In an emailed statement, the company said: “It’s imperative that our independent franchise operators adhere to our company’s core brand values and standards. We are conducting an internal review of this independent franchisee and will take appropriate action.”
Donnie Wahlberg also weighed in on the closure, using private tweets to tell The News & Observer’s media partner ABC11: "Certainly, any employee of (Wahlburgers) is of the utmost importance to me and my family and we will get on this immediately."
"Nobody has reached out to me about this, directly," Wahlberg told ABC11 in another private message from his verified Twitter account. "This specific location, among others, is franchisee-owned so it's possible that we weren't fully informed."
It’s rare for the Wake County health department to shut down restaurants. In 2018, Wake County issued 48 “intent to suspend” notices, Whittington said, meaning the restaurants would be closed if violations weren’t addressed right away. That period typically lasts 10 days but can go up to 30.
Of those 48, only 23 restaurants were closed after not adequately addressing the cited problems.
Whittington said Wahlburgers had three hot water heaters, all apparently malfunctioning. Similar issues are often dealt with quickly, he said.
“Our rules allow up to 10 days, but it’s considered doable with 24 hours,” Whittington said. “Most call an emergency plumber.”
The Raleigh Wahlburgers got its first notice on Nov. 15 that its water wasn’t hot enough, according to inspection records. An inspection the next day revealed the same results, triggering the “intent to suspend” notice, giving the restaurant 30 days to do the repair. Wahlburgers continued to stay open during that time.
Despite the critical violation, Wahlburgers scored an A rating of 93 on the Nov. 15 inspection and had scored a 95 in May.
On Dec. 13, while the restaurant was closed for business, an inspector returned and ran the dishwasher 14 times, getting water up to 117 degrees, but never the 120 degrees needed to pass, according to inspection records. The inspection report noted the restaurant would be closed four days later unless the dishwasher worked. On the final inspection, Dec. 17, the dishwasher only reached 52 degrees. The restaurant was closed.
On Dec. 28 the restaurant at 319 Fayetteville St., was padlocked by order of the Wake County Sheriff’s Office following eviction proceedings initiated by the building’s landlord.
As of Jan. 3, Whittington said neither the franchisee nor the corporate office have repaired the machine to reopen. The restaurant’s branding has been stripped from the space.
Katy Nester, 22, worked as a server and bartender since October, and said some employees found out about the closure through the media, which was first reported by ABC11.
She said the money was good from tips, but that checks would often bounce. That includes her latest check. She said her bank notified her Dec. 28 that the check hadn’t cleared due to insufficient funds.
“We walked into a mess, but it was well covered-up mess,” Nester said.