"I think the worst is over," said Ayhan Hassan, at a press conference he held at Main Street's Shish Kebab last Thursday, June 7. "But it's something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy," he added speaking of the recent outbreak of shigellosis, a gastrointestinal illness, in his five restaurants.
As of June 7, 82 cases of the bacteria had been confirmed, 14 of which were Ayhan's employees. (The public update of June 7th is the last one being issued by the Board of Health, according to its spokesperson, Cynthia Brown.)
Ayhan reported about the extra precautions he's taken. "I've hired a full time food technologist who can oversee our operation. We're policing the proper use of hand gloves more than ever and strictly monitoring the sanitary conditions."
The employees who had the shigellosis bacteria were ordered to stay out of work for 30 days, even though the Health Department requires only two weeks. Ayhan is paying their wages during that time.
"All of our managers will attend the program sponsored by the Board of Health to obtain food handlers certificates. This was scheduled months ago," Ayhan noted, adding that he himself participated in this program. "I'd like to send every full-time employee in the future," he added.
Cynthia Brown from the Board of Health reports that Ayhan is very cooperative. "He took and is taking all precautions. He got rid of all uncooked food," she said. "We're still doing our analysis. I hope we will be able to pinpoint the source. But we don't know at this point."
Explaining the media coverage, she said that its purpose was to prevent the spread of the disease.
She added that Ayhan is "terribly sorry" it happened.
Ayhan said that the Board of Health has been very friendly and caring. He's also amazed at having so many friends in Port who expressed so much love and support. "I feel so badly if I did create discomfort for our customers. That I might have disrupted their lives makes me feel terrible," he said.
"We've served 15 million meals over the years," he noted. "I still find it hard to understand. It's so unusual."
He notes that business has picked up. But, he still faces lawsuits that reportedly range from a $15 million one from a Port family to a few hundred thousand dollar ones, so far. He does have insurance though.
He's received so much support from local people who, on the whole believe that his three eateries in Port will withstand this crisis. They don't know about Plainview or Rockville Centre where Ayhan doesn't have the good will that he enjoys, and earned, in Port.
Ending our phone interview with him, he exclaimed, "I love Port Washington."
A group of some of Ayhan's loyal supporters ate lunch at Shish Kebab on Thursday to show their appreciation and confidence in Ayhan.