Underground Supper Club Event at Historic Cemetery Shut Down by City Health Inspectors

After finding that private chef Ramon Ruiz wasn’t using a commercial kitchen and did not possess proper licenses to cook and serve food to paying guests, Jersey City health inspectors shut down Friday evening’s sold-out event to benefit the Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cove Cemetery. Forty-five guests who paid $39.99 each to enjoy an al-fresco three-course meal at the cemetery watched as dishes like grilled beef kabobs, chicken lemongrass skewers, white rice and raw vegetable salad were taken away by city inspectors.

A post made on Saturday by the Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery on its official Facebook page does not mention the complication: “A beautiful communal table & tenting all draped in white, lovely lighting, a delicate piano performance, twinkling candlelight below the stars, stunning white bloom hydrangea centerpieces, & lots of laughter and great conversation with the wonderful people who came to help support our important cause.”

The event was part of a recurring series called the Underground Supper Club, a dining group created by Ruiz and his partner Jon Rappleye to bring together community members and provide a local dining alternative. Ruiz had already hosted events at Woolpunk Studios and Dames Coffee and Espresso Bar and was recently featured in JCI.

When previously asked about licensing and the legality of supper clubs in Jersey City, Ruiz responded, “These days Supper Clubs are not only back in vogue but legal almost worldwide, and the only license required by the by NJ Department of Health is Certified Food Safety, which is the same license required for any chef, retail food establishment, catering halls and anyone that cooks for a public.”

The Jersey Journal reported that Ruiz said he went to the Division of Health on March 18 to find out how to obtain a food license but was told that until he had a permanent kitchen, authorities could not help him.

Ruiz and his partner were not available for comment, but local food vendor Sara Marshall-Schkade, who sells her Saucy Sara’s Salsa at the Riverview Fiske and the Historic Downtown Jersey City Farmers’ Markets, among other locations, says, “You have to prepare your food in a co-op kitchen, and you have to have food insurance. You don’t necessarily have to have the NJ certification license unless you’re selling in stores.”

Photo of a dish from a previous Underground Supper Club event courtesy of Ramon Ruiz

Laryssa Wirstiuk

is a writer who teaches creative writing at Rutgers University. Born and raised in the suburbs of northern New Jersey, Laryssa moved to Jersey City because she was curious about the city where her mother was raised. Check her blog Craft Your Drafts.