The owner and general manager of a St. Paul grocery store are asking the city to let them reopen, a week after the city shut down both the business and the building, citing health and safety violations.
The St. Paul Department of Safety and Inspections took the rare step Sept. 19 of condemning Double Dragon Foods at 121 West Maryland Av. on the city’s North End. An inspection the day before found unsafe conditions, including wastewater leaking into the basement, damaged electrical equipment, blocked exits and evidence of a rodent infestation.
At a hearing on Tuesday, attorney Howard Sussman, who is representing Double Dragon Foods, asked the city to lift the condemnation order and allow the store to reopen immediately. He said there has been “a very concerted effort” in the last several days to complete work the city ordered.
“Specific and immediate work has been done, and will continue to be done, to complete the project,” he said.
Double Dragon Foods employs 100 people, Sussman said. He declined to comment after the hearing.
Store owner Che Ku did not attend the hearing Tuesday. Legislative hearing officer Marcia Moermond told Sussman and General Manager Bona Ku, Che Ku’s nephew, that the store could reopen as soon as Wednesday — but only if electrical, building and plumbing work is permitted and inspected, and they get rid of the rodents.
“I am very sympathetic to wanting to reopen the business and get people back in their jobs again,” Moermond said. “But we didn’t get here without having some significant problems.”
The Department of Safety and Inspections last approved a certificate of occupancy for Double Dragon Foods in August. Fire inspector Jim Perucca said at the hearing that a complaint about rodents in the store’s deli area prompted the Sept. 18 inspection.
Perucca said he reinspected the store on Monday and found extensive cleanup and repairs had been done since last week. There is still damage related to water leakage, as well as smaller problems, including damaged electrical cords and a deep fat fryer placed next to a stove.
The North End has a limited number of grocery stores, said City Council President Amy Brendmoen, whose ward includes the neighborhood, so the closure of Double Dragon Foods has left shoppers in a bind.
“It’s a huge impact on the people who shop there,” she said. “But we want to make sure it’s also safe.”
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture also inspected Double Dragon Foods on Sept. 19 and identified several code violations related to food storage and preparation. The department’s investigation remains open, according to spokeswoman Margaret Hart.
According to Minnesota Secretary of State business filings, Che Ku also owns Star Ocean Food in St. Paul and Dragon Star Supermarket in Brooklyn Park. In 2016, current and former employees of Star Ocean Food and Sun Foods stores sued Ku and fellow store owner Leng Ku in federal court, alleging mistreatment including forced overtime, unfair wages and harassment.
The parties reached a confidential settlement in August.