CHARLOTTE, NC (Joe Marusak and Hannah Lang/Charlotte Observer) - Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins filed a federal lawsuit on Friday to close two of their jointly operated Charlotte stores for failing to address what the companies said were issues such as mold, bad hygiene practices and improperly stored food.
The stores, in the 5600 block of North Tryon Street and 6700 block of Albemarle Road, failed a series of corporate health and safety inspections over the past year, the companies said in the lawsuits.
At the Albemarle Road store, for instance, a June 2 inspection by the companies found mold in an ice machine; food preparation equipment "not properly cleaned and sanitized;" food that was not dated and stored correctly; and "improper" hygiene practices by employees, "to name but a few of the violations identified."
The lawsuit does not specify the "improper" hygiene practices.
The lawsuit contends franchisee Yugdharini LLC breached its franchise agreement "by repeatedly violating Dunkin's operational standards relating to health, food safety, and sanitation at their former Dunkin' Donuts/Baskin Robbins combo shops" at the two Charlotte locations.
According to the lawsuit, Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins officials found "numerous violations" of the companies' standards for health, food safety and sanitation during inspections on July 6, 2017, and on May 30 and June 2.
"Each inspection resulted in a failing grade.," the lawsuit said.
After a three- to four-month improvement program, the stores “failed to demonstrate sufficient progress”, the lawsuit also claims.
The shops were last inspected on Wednesday and again fell short of standards, according to the lawsuit.
On Thursday, the companies revoked the franchise agreements, meaning the shops no longer had permission to use the Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins logos and branding, the complaint says.
Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins sued Yugdharini LLC and its five partners for trademark and trade dress infringement, and unfair and deceptive trade practices, among other allegations. They are asking a judge to order payment of at least $300,000 to cover damages. And they want the locations closed.
“Defendants have continued to operate the shops ... without having any right or license to do so,” the lawsuit says.
Both stores, however, have received an "A" grade on each of their past 10 state health inspections, dating to 2013, according to a public records search by the Observer.
The Albemarle Road store received a score of 94 on its most recent inspection, on Feb. 13.
Two "critical violations" were found during the inspection, government records show: An employee's uncovered drink was left on a shelf above the food prep area, which could promote "cross-contamination," according to the inspection report; and pre-cooked eggs were kept at below the required 135 degrees Fahrenheit in hot drawers.
The store fixed the problems by discarding the drink and reheating the hot drawers to 165 degrees, government records show.
According to state records, the North Tryon Street shop received a health inspection score of 97 during its most recent inspection in October 2017.
One violation was for hand towels not being provided at the hand sink in the Baskin-Robbins serving area and a coffee machine blocking access to the hand towel dispenser at the same sink.
The other violation was for chemical cleaning products being stored over a sink and on a food-prep cutting surface, according to state records..
Yugdharini LLC is based in Harrisburg, N.C., according to its filings with the N.C. Secretary of State's office.
Rohit Savani, who is listed in state documents as Yugdharini LLC's manager and registered agent, has not responded to requests for comment since Friday from the Observer.
The four other members of Yugdharini LLC listed in the lawsuit also could not be reached for comment. A man who identified himself as a manager at the Albemarle Road location declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for Dunkin' Brands Group Inc. said the company was unable to comment "due to pending litigation."
Staff researcher Maria David contributed.