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Healthy Eater



You've heard the kerplow each week on NBC 12's Restaurant Report, when the "critical" stamp pounds down and another local kitchen is busted for health-code violations. The segment is a big audience draw for the television station, and Ashley Swann, 27, has been the featured reporter for a year. She airs the state health department's official inspection list, winners and losers, in the kitchen-cleanliness stakes. Don't blame the messenger, she says, for what's already available to consumers online. And don't expect her to stop dining out either.

Style: Owners must hate it when they see their restaurant named on the critical list on TV.

Swann: It can be very difficult. We are not out to point fingers to say you're doing a bad job. I can totally understand that these owners are working hard and trying to do the best they can and don't appreciate our putting their inspections on TV. We love to give every owner a chance to explain why they maybe were having a bad day [when the inspector came].

But viewers want to know this stuff?

It's crazy. People just love it. They know this information is out there and accessible, but this segment makes it easy for them. I go through and look at every single inspection report that's been done to find the worst of the worst each week. It's a public service. It makes people think a little bit about things they may see in restaurants and how important it is for them to be clean and healthy in their own kitchens as well. We get calls from viewers on a daily basis.

Are you surprised by some of the places that make the critical list?

Absolutely I'm surprised. Quite frankly, I think I understand what those violations are, and that some are more serious than others. It doesn't stop me from eating out. One Thursday, Can Can was on the report, and that Saturday I went there with my mom to eat.

Have you ever gone along when the inspectors make their visits?

I am not inspecting these kitchens, nor would I want to. The thing we have tried to help people understand is that everything we report on comes directly from the health department. I don't know if the inspectors like our segment or if we make their life a little harder. I'm sure it creates some headaches, but we're bringing more awareness to their goals.

What's with that sound effect that pounds that critical stamp down so intensely?

The idea is to get people's attention. We're not trying to exaggerate things, but in the world of television, we're always trying to get people's attention and that seems to do the trick. I've watched similar segments in other markets, and there are definitely differences in how they are carried out -- some reporters are a lot more aggressive. I always try to give the benefit of the doubt. I'm not out to get the owners; I'm providing a public service.

So is there any place in town where you're willing to eat out?

I like anything and everything. I love trying new restaurants. Knowing how hard the business is — my aunt opened a restaurant in another state — I think it's important to support people who are trying to get a business off and running. I love Kuba Kuba, Comfort, The Hill Café, I'm in the Dairy Bar a lot, there are so many. … That's what I love about Richmond, all the little mom-and-pop places. S

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