There is a long and costly process involved to get all the permits to operate a restaurant in DC. We began the process immediately and were making a good faith effort toward full compliance when the delayed payments from Groupon snuffed us out.
The term "good faith" effort is a legal term with important and wide-ranging application.
The best way to understand it is to imagine a situation in which a guy owns a restaurant in a city that requires the owner of a restaurant to have completed a 30-day food handling course in order to legally operate the restaurant. He has completed the course and has a successful restaurant business. Then one day he is struck by a car and killed. The ownership of the restaurant passes to his daughter. In order for the restaurant to stay open, she must complete the food-handling course.
Now, will the city come in and shut the restaurant down until she finishes the course? Of course not. It would kill a viable, taxpaying member of the business community, throw dozens of employees out of work, and diminish the quality of life for all the restaurant's patrons.
But if the restaurant stays open, it is operating illegally, right? So what happens?
The legal concept of "good faith" effort applies. The city will allow the restaurant to stay open—legally—as long as the daughter is making a good faith effort to finish the 30-day course. However, if she is lying by the pool all day every day, the city will shut the restaurant down for operating illegally.
How does the city determine whether a good faith effort is being made? It will probably send an inspector around once or twice to check things out and determine informally whether the restaurant is still in compliance, and if, in the inspector's judgment, it is, the restaurant can, to put it one way, legally operate illegally.
This is one way the inhuman rigidity of the written law is softened and made more flexible so that it can be more justly applied to the myriad complexities of the human condition.
In Washington, DC, to get a Health Department permit ($527.00 fee + $70.00 application fee + $25.00 endorsement fee + $62 technology fee) one first needs to have a C of O, a Certificate of Occupancy, which we had. However, to serve food, the one we have has to be amended ($33 initial application fee + $42 additional fee). But to do this we need to get a building permit (fee based on cost of alterations and repairs) plus whichever additional supplemental permits you need, like an outdoor sign permit ($65 fee), appliances permits ($26 for first one; $16, each additional), electrical outlet permits ($8 ea), and so on. Then the Dept of Buildings can sign off on the Certificate of Occupancy. But before you can get a building permit, you have to have a business license ($324.50 fee), but to get a business license, you have to incorporate. There will be a $220.00 fee to file your articles of incorporation in DC. But before you incorporate you first need to search and register your name, for which there is a $55.00 fee. (You will also need an EIN tax number from the feds, who give you the number for free through which you are going to be sending them money.)
When we had to close we were at the point in the process of having applied for the business license. In other words, we were making that good faith effort that allowed us to operate legally. Legally, that is, if a city inspector had determined we were making that effort.
About three weeks before we had to shut down, we received a visit during operating hours from a "Supervisory Sanitarian" from the Food Safety Division, Department of Health. He looked around and asked me whether I knew that they could come in and padlock the doors that day for operating a restaurant without a permit. I said yes, but showed him that we were making a good faith effort to get the permits. Well, you need to take my card, he said. And left. His card is sitting on the desk beside my computer as I write this.
The inspector did what hundreds of inspectors do every day in the United States. He saw that we were running a clean place and making a good faith effort to get the proper permits, so he walked away. Now when the DCist called the Health Department about our permits, the Health Dept, terrified of the press and the ignorance of the mob and hoping to deflect any criticism, falsely claimed to have sent a cease and desist letter. We have yet to receive any such letter. What they did send was an inspector, who looked around, determined we were making a good faith effort and not poisoning the populace, and then went away. That was the last we heard from the Health Department.
We were not about to get closed down. I explained all this to the DCist writer.