By Jane Friedmann
The owner of the New China Wok says he’s determined to keep it open, despite a long record of health code violations and unpaid fines that have put its license in jeopardy.
Next week, the City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to revoke the license of the restaurant at 5033 France Av. S., which has already shut down at least twice since August 2011 for dozens of violations, including the discovery of mice in the kitchen. Owner Xiu Ben Lan owes the city $17,100 in unpaid citations, but said this week that he hopes to be able to borrow money from friends and family to pay the citations. If he can’t find the money, he said, he may have to sell the business.
While the restaurant is currently open, it was shut down most recently on Aug. 27 so that the restaurant could get rid of mice and address 37 other violations. City inspector Mohamed Yusuf came back Sept. 5 and found that 10 violations remained, none mouse-related.
Lan said that an independent inspector he hired concluded the restaurant was "super clean, really clean."
Night manager Stephanie Ollila, who said she has worked at the restaurant for about a year, acknowledged that recent inspections found some violations, but said “the restaurant is very clean.”
While the presence of mice in the restaurant has been responsible for a small fraction of the restaurant’s 92 health-code violations since July of 2010, it has been one of the main reasons cited by the city for at least two of the restaurant’s temporary closures in that period. Both Ollila and a friend of Lan, Glen Turnquist, blame the building for the pest issues, saying the building is old and is shared with other tenants, including apartment dwellers on the second floor.
“When [Yusuf] came in he saw a mouse next to the mouse trap,” Ollila said, referring to the August inspection. “We have records of having continuous contracts with pest control.”
Two violations cited in that inspection related to pests.
“Mice droppings were found under the prep sink in the kitchen, on the hot-holding table in the service station, and all over the floor in the mechanical room where food equipment items were stored.” A dead mouse was discovered in a trap in a room where food equipment was stored.
Turnquist said he provided extermination services to New China Wok for several years ending about two years ago.
“I’ve been in and out of millions of restaurants and I tell you what. There’s a ton of restaurants a lot dirtier that what this guy is claiming Ben’s is,” Turnquist said.