For the last 18 months, Alex Salvant, owner of La Mia Restaurant on Northwest 72nd Avenue in Medley, quietly brewed and stewed.
La Mia, a longtime hometown restaurant located just a block north of Medley Town Hall, had been awarded the contract in 2010 to handle the food distribution for Medley’s Hot Meals program, which serves and feeds all of the Medley Lakeside Retirement Park residents Monday through Friday of every week.
But the Town of Medley council went in a different direction in March 2012, and Salvant felt slightly betrayed.
Latin American Grill was awarded the contract back then and, even though the contract was not due to expire until March, 2014, complaints by the Lakeside residents in writing (60 signatures) were brought to the council’s attention. The item to discuss the situation was placed on the agenda by council member Susanna Guasch for the monthly Medley council meeting on Sept. 3.
In the end, a very happy Salvant left the building knowing he’s going to get another shot, but not before there was plenty of debate about the issue with plenty of people chiming in.
Before any debate could even begin, the council asked newly appointed town attorney Stephen Helfman to look at the fine print on the contract with Latin American to see if there was any kind of escape clause. Helfman eventually confirmed that the town could get out of the contract provided it gave Latin American a minimum 60-day notice of termination of services.
But Salvant still had a big hill to climb, with his biggest obstacle being Councilman Jack Morrow.
“The handling of food is a real issue here,” Morrow said. “I have seen how he delivers his food and it simply is not done properly and not in the proper containers. It’s very unprofessional-looking. You need the proper equipment.”
“That’s not a problem,” Salvant quickly countered to Morrow. “It’s simply a matter of going out and spending approximately about a hundred dollars to obtain the proper containers.”
A number of Lakeside residents then took to the podium to voice their displeasure over the quality of the Latin American food.
“I just started on the program recently and have been very disappointed,” said Dale Blank. “Many times I found the rice virtually unedible and would eventually have to throw it away. When I attended some of the Medley Chamber of Commerce functions and La Mia was doing the catering, I thought the food was absolutely delicious and I would urge the council to bring La Mia back.”
Earlier in the meeting, Fathima Fuentes had gone before the council and, after serving as the director of the Hot Meals program on an interim basis, was unanimously approved by the council to have the interim tag removed.
Soon after, she was called back up because the council wanted to hear her version of food quality.
“I just want to make it known that I have no preference one way or the other,” Fuentes said through an interpreter. “It seems like whoever we use, we’re always going to get complaints. We have residents from many different backgrounds, so you’re probably never going to make everyone happy.”
Vice Mayor Griselia Digiacomo then jumped into the conversation.
“We love your place, Alex, and many of us eat there all the time but you understand that if we approve this, you will have to make sure you have all the proper permits,” Digiacomo said. “We’re not just going to hand this over to you.”
Morrow continued to battle.
“I know he’s local but with Latin American we know we had a professional server,” Morrow said. “The handling of food is a major issue here.”
The idea was then tossed out of giving Salvant and his restaurant a trial period to “prove himself” and that ultimately was the deal-sealer as the council voted unanimously (yes, including Morrow) to give Latin American its 60-day notice and then grant La Mia a three-month window to serve as the provider for the Hot Meals program before making a longer term commitment.
“I hope you learned from your last opportunity and understand our concern as a council we want to make sure our Lakeside residents are being treated well,” said Councilman Edgar Ayala. “We want to make sure everything is done properly.”
“It’s about time; for two years I’ve been fighting this and finally got it,” Salvant said after the meeting. “All this time, I never stopped giving great service. All my vendors are in Medley, so on top of that I’m keeping other businesses in Medley open. I feel like I’ve been proving myself all of this time. A lot of them go to eat in my restaurant every day, so I would think they certainly understand the good quality of my food. I’m grateful that they showed the confidence in me again and will work hard to prove them right.”