Restaurant owner accused of covering hygiene rating closes down after saga crippled business

-Credit: (Image: Google Maps)
-Credit: (Image: Google Maps)


A restaurateur who was fined for allegedly covering a food hygiene rating with plant pots last year has closed down the business. Carl Gough, owner of The Muddy Toad, was prosecuted by the council for allegedly failing to clearly display a food hygiene rating of one in the window of the venue in the summer of 2023 – only months after he’d taken the business on and set about transforming its image into a casual fine dining restaurant.

Carl has always maintained he did not deliberately conceal the rating with plants and that he had “every intention” of paying the £200 fine but didn’t pay it because the business was struggling financially and he needed to “prioritise paying staff and bills”. He explained how the original rating, which was changed to a four after a re-rating weeks after the one ranking was issued, crippled the restaurant to such an extent that for weeks very few customers turned up. You can see all the food businesses rated zero in Wales here.

In a statement posted on The Muddy Toad’s social media pages, Carl confirmed the restaurant had been permanently closed. It reads: “Dear friends and loyal guests, it is with a heavy heart that we announce the permanent closure of the Muddy Toad - New Inn. This difficult decision comes after much reflection and consideration. We are immensely grateful for the support, laughter, and memories we’ve shared with you all. Thank you for being part of our journey.”

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Carl Gough, of The Muddy Toad in Pontypool -Credit:Carl Gough
Carl Gough, of The Muddy Toad in Pontypool -Credit:Carl Gough

Last month Carl spoke of how some customers had boycotted the Pontypool restaurant in the aftermath of the story of the court case surfacing online, which you can read in full here. “Sadly because of that rating we were completely boycotted,” he told WalesOnline. “For weeks afterwards we had a fully-staffed restaurant and no customers. It would be damaging for any business but especially a new business trying to find its feet.”

He said he regrets not paying the fine and wishes he’d dealt with it at the time but he maintains the “whole thing was unjust”. “The situation occurred because the original rating was issued because there was a clash of personalities between our head chef at the time and the inspector from the council,” Carl claimed of the inspection which happened in June last year. “It led to an argument on site and the council issued a no confidence in management notice, which led to an immediate one-star rating. In our feedback the council suggested strongly that we get rid of that member of staff and we acted on that immediately.

“I begged them for a re-rating as soon as possible and they came in August and said they were impressed with the changes we’d made and they issued us with a four. At that point we were gutted the whole thing had happened but we were happy it seemed to be over. But he came back a few days later with our new four-star rating in one hand and a £200 fine in the other. When I asked what it was for he told me it was because we’d covered up the old rating. In hindsight the plant may have been slightly hanging over it but it certainly wasn’t deliberate and it was clearly visible to people close enough to the building. Perhaps if you were standing on the other side of the road you might not have seen it. There would have been little point covering it. The fact of the matter is it was all over Google, in the [South Wales] Argus, all over social media, everywhere. We would even tell customers and explain what happened. In any event that rating actually wasn’t accurate at that stage anyway so I felt the fine was really harsh and unjust.”

Carl had set about transforming the site into a fine dining restaurant when he took it over -Credit:Carl Gough
Carl had set about transforming the site into a fine dining restaurant when he took it over -Credit:Carl Gough
Carl said due to the case some boycotted the restaurant -Credit:Carl Gough
Carl said due to the case some boycotted the restaurant -Credit:Carl Gough

A court case ensued because Carl decided he wasn't in a position to pay the fine at that stage or in the following months. Asked why he didn’t pay the fine straightaway in order to try and move on quickly Carl replied: “Context is important here, which hasn’t been reported elsewhere. At the time I was thinking: ‘Oh my God, we’ve got a one rating in the window, the press are writing about us, people are commenting all sorts on Facebook, and we’ve got no customers'. Financially it was very difficult. With that backdrop I basically couldn’t afford it on top of everything else.

“I had to prioritise my bills and commitments with suppliers and staff. I was emailing the council all the time explaining our financial situation because of the nonsense created around the original rating. I told them we didn’t have the spare £200 to pay the fine. In fairness they agreed to an extension but I’ve not been in a position to pay it and they took it to court. I’ve always had every intention to pay the fine. I’d never been to a court in my life until that day.” Hoping to recover from the case, Carl barely got going again before an odour issue caused by an issue with the local pumping station caused the restaurant to close again last month, at that stage temporarily.

A spokeswoman for Torfaen council said: “Mr Gough was given four opportunities to pay but failed to do so resulting in further legal action being taken. We understand the impact low food hygiene ratings can have on businesses and we endeavour to respond to requests for re-rating inspections at the earliest opportunity. In this case The Muddy Toad was re-inspected well within the statutory three-month timescale and a food hygiene rating of four was subsequently issued.

“Food hygiene ratings provide important information to consumers about hygiene standards at food businesses to enable them to make informed choices about where to buy and eat food. The proper display of valid rating is essential to ensure the effectiveness of the scheme.”