Mystic Grill owner responds to credit card theft reports, low health score

COVINGTON — Within just two months of opening, the Mystic Grill has hit a few bumps in the road, but the owners are taking every measure to ensure a safe community restaurant.

Two women who dined at the restaurant on Feb. 21 filed a report with the Covington Police Department noting their credit cards had been compromised.

The first victim said she was contacted by Sears Master Card stating her card had been used in Michigan to make a purchase, according to the report. The other victim, who used her Navy Federal Credit Union card to pay for her Mystic Grill bill, was notified by her bank that the card was compromised and someone was using the card number in Maine and Texas.

Restaurant owner and Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston said in a statement Friday that the restaurant immediately investigated to discern whether the reports had “any basis in fact.”

“It has come to our attention that an undue connection has been drawn between the Mystic Grill and instances of credit card theft,” Johnston said. “Once hearing this concern, we immediately investigated to discern whether it had any basis in fact. We quickly found out that credit card theft has been recently occurring in large numbers all over Georgia generally and Covington specifically.”

Johnston said he asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to check the system and in return reported there were no issues to be found.

“But we didn’t stop there. We also had Ambit Technology come and ensure that everything was secure. They also reported that we had no leak,” Johnson said. “In addition, the daily scans we receive from our credit card company, Mercury, also showed that nothing in our system had been tampered with.”

Johnston said the final step was inviting the local police to investigate the system; no internal breach was found.

“This prevalence of credit card theft saddens us at the Mystic Grill. We do not take this accusation lightly and have done everything possible to ensure that our system has not had any leaks nor will have any in the future,” Johnston said. “We will continue to make sure that our restaurant is one where your business is valued and your dining experience is a secure one.”

Having to investigate reports of guests’ credit card numbers being stolen isn’t the only hiccup the restaurant has faced in its second month of business.

On March 20, Mystic Grill, located 1116 Clark St., received a 61/U score on its health inspection from the Georgia Department of Public Health for 12 items not in compliance, including hands being clean and properly washed; food separated and protected; proper eating, tasting, drinking or tobacco use.

In a statement released on Monday from all of the restaurant owners — Angie and John Beszborn and Ronnie and Kelley Johnston — it was noted that due to the low score the executive chef was fired.

“When we opened the Mystic Grill two months ago, we hired an executive chef who had incredible credentials. Putting our trust in him, we gave him full control of the kitchen,” the statement said. “Until the health score, we were not aware that his labeling system in the kitchen was not done correctly.”

The statement went on to say that they decided to place the kitchen under new leadership after receiving the score. The restaurant was then reinspected on March 26 and received an 85/B score under the leadership of a consulting chef, who had been with the Mystic Grill since it opened.

“Though the inspector was amazed and impressed at the vast improvement in the organization of the kitchen, he took off points because our chef, checking for quality control, tasted and threw away a dish. If it had not been for that instance, then our score would have been 100,” the statement said. “The inspector will return and complete a follow-up report in the next few days. We are completely confident that our score will continue to improve. As the owners, we deeply appreciate the community and their understanding that we are a new business. Know that we are acting as quickly as we can to ensure that this matter is resolved.”

According to the health inspection report, the two things that had not been brought into compliance were no bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods or approved alternate method and proper eating, tasting, drinking or tobacco use. Readers who would like to know more about a restaurant’s score may go online at www.eastmetrohealth.com to read any violations recorded in the report.