Phoenix restaurant in jeopardy over city, county differences

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PHOENIX – Mirko Masini owns a quaint little restaurant called Caffe Italia located just off of Seventh Avenue and Indian School in Phoenix.

"I've been here three years," Mirko said. "I'm Italian so it's, most of it, is Italian food so pastas, pizza, very good pizza. I've been making pizza since I was 12."

Business has been good so Mirko decided to incorporate a Mexican flair by expanding his patio and setting up a grill out front to attract customers.

He wanted to add carne asada, tacos, and quesadillas to his already popular menu.

"I want the smoke, I want the smell of it, people drive by and, like you say, smell it and say 'I'm going to see what they're doing’," Mirkso said of his plans for the outdoor grill and patio, visible from Seventh Avenue.

Mirko said he applied to Maricopa County's Environmental Services for permission to cook outside.

As a result, the agency gave suggestions on what Mirko needed to do to in order to prepare food safely outside. He spent nearly $7,000 in order to comply with their suggestions.

"I did exactly what they told me," Mirko said. But those suggestions, Mirko said, are not flying with the city of Phoenix inspectors who shut Mirko's patio business down after only three days of opening up.

The county told him he had to install glass windows and he did. But the city of Phoenix told him to take them down.

The County also told Mirko he could run some of his plumbing up and out of his restaurant. But again, the city of Phoenix told him that's illegal and the plumbing has to go underground.

The bottom line: Every time the county tells him to do something, the city tells him to do something different.

Robert Stratman, a county official from Environmental Services said, unfortunately, Mirko jumped the gun by spending $7,000 on things he failed to get approved by the city of Phoenix.

"If he would have gotten the city involved we probably could have saved a lot of heartache and problems throughout the process," Stratman said.

For example, the windows. Stratman said his agency may have suggested windows to keep food from blowing into the grilling area, but it was up to Mirko to consult the city of Phoenix to make sure glass is permissible.

Unfortunately, it's not. Neither is the plumbing system that Mirko already spent money on.

Mirko said it's an expensive lesson, and wishes the two agencies could be on the same page.

"I'm still here. I don't want to go anywhere," Mirko said. "I want to succeed just like everybody else but it's tough. You know, it's like they want me to close down."

In cases like these, it's up to the restaurant owner to work with both the county and the city they live in to come up with an agreeable plan.

Unfortunately, Mirko ran with the county's suggestion first without getting approval because, he said, the county never mentioned working with the city.

As for the city of Phoenix, they tell 3 On Your Side there are just a few corrections Mirko has to make to be in compliance.