Health complaint targets restaurant owner with Down syndrome

Health complaint targets restaurant owner with Down syndrome

May 7th, 2016 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Andrew Ankar works Friday, May 6, 2016 in the Hixson Ankar's Hoagies.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Man with Down syndrome looks past complaint about him to health department

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Before most employees arrive, starting at 8 a.m., Andrew Ankar flips on the lights, the stoves, the fryers, and preps the kitchen for a long day of hoagies, onion rings and cheesecake.

One day, when he finds a customized car with two sets of steering wheels and pedals, the 20-year-old hopes to drive to the family restaurant on his own. For now, though, he's content to ride with his mother to Ankar's Hoagies, the business his family has owned since 1979.

On a late April day, Ankar started work in the usual fashion.

Then he went to the restroom.

Standing in a private stall, Ankar repeated the name "Billy," one of his coworkers who happened to be on shift that day. But a nearby customer took issue, retorting that his name wasn't Billy.

The customer walked out of the restroom, found Ankar's mother, Judy, near the drink station in the Hixson restaurant, and explained his side: Not only did her son call him "Billy," but he cussed him out, too.

Judy Ankar paused. That didn't sound like her son, her kind-hearted second child who was born with Down syndrome.

She asked Andrew about it.

"Sir, I'm sorry if you heard what you heard," Judy Ankar told the man, "but Andrew said he didn't say anything."

Sitting Friday in the restaurant, Judy Ankar recalled the man's reply: "I know there's something wrong with him."

Days later, they received the complaint.

***

On Wednesday, the county health inspector handed over the pink-tinted complaint.

The official reason?

"Persons unnecessary to the food establishment occupation are not allowed in the food prep, food storage or washing areas."

The restroom incident immediately sprang to Judy Ankar's mind. She had no proof — but Andrew Ankar practically grew up in her and her husband's restaurant and nobody had ever complained before about him.

"That's probably where all of this stems from," she said.

The health inspector later said the complaint was in regard to the owner's son. The Ankars' other son, Alex, is a student studying medicine at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City.

Billy Ulmer, acting public information officer for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, could not release further information about the complaint, such as the complainant's name.

"We followed through and sent an inspector out," he said Friday. "And the inspector's findings were there were no violations. So that's pretty much the end for us."

***

Andrew Ankar makes a mean burger — kind of like his father, who mastered the grilltop steak. Now, Andrew Ankar stares at the picture he keeps on his phone. A year has passed since George Ankar died of cancer, leaving the company to his two sons, Alex and Andrew.

You can find Andrew Ankar on Snapchat at AndrewAnkar625. At the Dream League of Chattanooga, where he plays baseball, he has a perfect batting average. His favorite movie is "Big," with Tom Hanks. Earlier this week, he trimmed his goatee.

What about his favorite comedian?

He points to Chris McNelly, 27, his childhood friend. They met at Ankar's Hoagies, where McNelly used to work.

On Friday, they sat in a window booth, goofing around, reminiscing. They've been working on a dark comedy set in a rundown, Southern strip mall, as seen through the eyes of an 18-year-old with Down syndrome.

But their attention is elsewhere at the moment.

A few feet away, a pretty woman wearing a blue-studded jacket is eating with some friends.

"Is that the one?" McNelly teases.

"Is your heart about to pound out of your chest?" McNelly asks.

Andrew Ankar leans over to sucker-punch him.

"Oh, stop it."

They keep talking — about soap operas and Christmas songs and roadtrips — and eventually the woman gets up to leave.

She smiles and waves on her way out the door.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347 with story ideas or tips. Follow @zackpeterson918.


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