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Red Velvet closes one of its cafes in wake of controversy

Red Velvet closes one of its cafes in wake of controversy

By Darcy Spears. CREATED Jul 25, 2013

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- A restaurant featured just one month ago on Dirty Dining has closed its doors.

And as Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears reports, its problems run deeper than a bad health inspection.

The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health once proudly proclaimed its partnership with the Red Velvet Cafe.

The health food restaurant's location there was known as the Keep Memory Alive Cafe.

But in June, its problems began.

A 31-demerit "C" grade landed them on our Dirty Dining report.

Inspectors found moldy blueberries and improper handwashing.

And the cafe had to be reminded to sell only wholesome food to the public after the Health District documented many food items that were past their expiration date.

"That's... that's alarming," said Red Velvet customer Darcy Neighbors.

What's even more alarming is the final nail in Red Velvet Cafe's coffin at the Ruvo Center: a controversy over calories.

"Do you believe it's as low calorie as they say?" Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears asked customer Donna DiMaria

"Not always," she replied.

And with good reason.

Remember that infamous Seinfeld episode about allegedly healthy yogurt that turned to be full of fat? 

Well, it's come home to roost at Red Velvet Cafe.

Only this time, it's about cookies.

Red Velvet Cafe claimed their vegan chocolate chip cookies were a mere 27 calories each. 

But Contact 13 obtained an independent food lab report from Pacific Coast Analytical in California. 

It shows they're actually 157 calories each -- nearly six times more than advertised.

Darcy Spears: Does it make you feel misled about the health of the food here?
Donna DiMaria: Yeah, definitely it would make me feel misled in that the ingredients in there are maybe more sugar and that's what you're trying to get away from in the first place.

Just a few weeks ago, Red Velvet Cafe's website said the half-dozen pack of cookies was 160 calories -- just under 27 per cookie.

That calorie count is now gone from the website.

All that remains is a disclaimer.

"And they say it's, like, healthier than the regular restaurants, but then you find out it has more salt or sugar than they really tell you?  So it kinda gets me a little mad," said Donna's daughter Lucia DiMaria.

We wanted to talk to Chef Aneesha Tolani about all of this.

She refused to comment for our Dirty Dining story, and wouldn't talk about the cookies either.

Her public relations representative confirmed the closure of the cafe at the Ruvo Center was a mutual decision after their own test showed the cookies were at least 100 calories each.

The controversy over these cookies cuts particularly deep at the Cleveland Clinic because of the customers that the cafe catered to -- patients and their families. People for whom exact nutrition information can have a big impact on health.

For others, it's also a matter of honesty.

"It's so hard to run a small business these days," said customer Darcy Neighbors.  "I know I've been doing it since 1996 and it's very difficult, but integrity is everything."

Public relations mogul Sig Rogich, whose firm represents both the Ruvo Center and Red Velvet Cafe, sent us a statement saying: “Aneesha is a hard worker and she was just naïve and not trying to be duplicitous or deceitful.  I, and I know many others have told me, that they will also continue to eat at Red Velvet Café because they offer a good and healthy product.”

Darcy Spears

Darcy Spears

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Darcy Spears is currently the Chief Investigative Reporter for Action News.