Young and Hungry

A Tale of Two Exhaust Cleaning Systems

The afternoon session of the Rogue States trial, in which D.C. Superior Court Judge John M. Mott must decide whether the burger joint is legally a nuisance, was a spent arguing over the merits of the scrubber/vent system that owner Raynold Mendizabal installed to abate the smell that's annoying the lawyers over at Steptoe & Johnson.

The attorneys representing Steptoe called their witness, a gentleman with a long Southern drawl and an equally long resume in the air purifying business.  His name was pronounced "Richard Wharf," but I have not been able to verify that spelling yet, or any number of variations on it, despite many, many Google searches. Regardless, "Richard Wharf" was Steptoe's expert witness. "Wharf" conducted a one-day visit to Rogue States on Sept. 30 and pronounced that the burger joint has several deficiencies in its exhaust-scrubbing system.

First of all, "Wharf" testified, the scrubbers that Mendizabal installed are too far away from the grill hood, where the smoke and fumes enter the system. He guessed that at least 75 feet of duct work lay between the hood and the scrubbers, perhaps more.

"You want the scrubber as close as possible to the hood," "Wharf" testified. If it's too far away, he added, the grease cools and turns into a solid, so "the odor stays in the system."

"Wharf" also suggested that Rogue States should have installed a scrubber with an "auto-wash" feature, which cleans the system and prevents the build-up of grease solids that lead to odor. He testified that Rogue States' system has no auto-wash feature and must, therefore, rely on a bi-weekly manual cleaning, which could damage the collector cells in the unit. But he also suggested bi-weekly cleanings wouldn't even be enough to prevent the grease build-up that leads to odor.

"I have never, ever told someone in a restaurant operation that they don't need an auto wash," he said.

The only solution to the problem at Rogue States, "Wharf" testified, would be to vent the exhaust all the way to the roof. At present, Rogue's exhaust vent is located in a canyon between the two buildings, where it releases fumes at about a second-story level.  The witness talked about a similar problem at a T.G.I. Fridays in Philadelphia, where the restaurant was located below some condos. Residents complained about the exhaust fumes and the restaurant then vented to the roof. "It alleviated the problem," "Wharf"testified.

On cross-examination, Paul Kiernan, who represents Rogue's landlord TRT, a co-defendant, ripped into "Wharf"'s credibility. The attorney suggested that "Wharf" was an expert on Trion scrubbers, not the United Air Specialist scrubbers that are installed at Rogue. Kiernan also noted that "Wharf" did not actually look inside Rogue's system and does not have any clear idea how much build-up may be inside the system.

Kiernan then opened up the manual for the United Air Specialist scrubber unit and asked "Wharf" if it specifically calls for an auto-wash system. "Wharf" admitted it did not and, in fact, the booklet noted that the unit could be manually cleaned. Kiernan then asked the witness if a lack of an auto-wash would specifically curb the effectiveness or performance of the United Air Specialist scrubber.

"No, it doesn't," "Wharf" testified.

Finally, Kiernan asked the witness if he had actually conducted any tests on the unit or inspected other restaurant vents in the neighborhood to see if they may be venting the offending fumes. Or, Kiernan asked, was "Wharf" just relying on a one-day inspection when he eye-balled the system from the outside. "No," "Wharf" testified, he hadn't conducted any tests nor looked at other restaurants' systems in the area.