LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — "The culture that we have around here is to do everything the right way the first time," said Chamango Mexican Snacks owner Hugo Flores.
But on Oct. 22, Flores' go-to guy couldn't come to work, and the fill-in froze in the face of the health district.
"I don't know if he got nervous. I don't know what happened to him," said Flores.
On top of that, a refrigerator suddenly failed after working just fine the day before.
Flores called it a "perfect storm."
Those circumstances plus a lot of little mistakes added up to 38 demerits and a "C" grade for Chamango Mexican Snacks on Sahara Avenue and Decatur Boulevard - the second Chamango location to be on Dirty Dining.
"Just a few more demerits and they would have closed you down," Darcy Spears noted. "So that must have been kind of scary for you guys."
"Yes, absolutely. So that's why we're taking action," Flores said, explaining that he held staff meetings, implemented new procedures and required extra equipment checks to make sure everything is working properly every day.
"I'm not going to play victim and say it's not our fault. It's our fault. If we were in compliance, we would have an 'A' right?" Flores said.
The malfunctioning refrigerator accounted for many of Chamango's demerits because it meant lots of food was at unsafe temperatures.
Items that had to be relocated or thrown out included a large container of corn, milk, sour cream, eggs, whipping cream and crepe mix.
Inspectors also wrote up a repeat violation for spoiled food. This time, it was two containers of moldy strawberries in the fridge.
"So that's another thing that we're implementing right now," Flores said. "The strawberries, say we bought them yesterday, we don't know how long they've been at the store. So, we have to come in and check every day. So that was our mistake."
Flores says strawberries are one of their best-sellers so they're constantly in the inventory.
"Obviously, we missed checking each and every package to make sure that they're all in good condition," Flores said.
Inspectors found other food items not protected from contamination, like uncovered ice cream next to an employee's exploded can of soda in the freezer. And uncovered ready to eat herbs stored under a refrigerator.
"We already went through the little mistakes that we had and fixed everything," Flores said.
Other violations included customer ice that was improperly stored in a bucket with no drainage, a rusty screw inside the ice machine, and hot water at the three-compartment sink that was intentionally turned off due to a water leak.
Also, dirty items stored as clean had old food on them including pans, a vegetable chopper, can opener, blender lid and crepe spatula.
"Unfortunately, that very morning I had someone who really never opens. So that was unfortunate, but it was course-corrected on the spot," Flores said.
Chamango is still digging out of a financial hole with the health district. Inspectors discovered the Sahara location and some of the other Chamango locations have not paid health permit fees, late fees or failed inspection fees. They've set up a payment plan to get back on track.
Blanca Ortiz, owner of Chamango Mexican Snacks located at 2831 N Las Vegas Blvd., says her location is not affiliated with the other locations and is up-to-date with timely payment of all the health permit and inspection fees.
Flores says staying afloat during the pandemic has been very challenging for him, and that he's had to reduce hours, costs and staff as they fight to keep the business alive.
"It's one thing after another. However, we're very, very positive that things are going to turn around and we're gonna be okay. We've got to make it!" Flores said.
He also said he is hoping to get his "A" grade back this week.
Area 50 One food truck was shut down Oct. 23 for the imminent health hazard of insufficient water.
Inspectors also found ready-to-eat rice at an unsafe temperature and no sanitizer set up during active food preparation.
Area 50 One was re-inspected on Oct. 29 and received a zero demerit “A” grade.
The owner did not respond to our request for comment.
Click here to see the health report for Chamango Mexican Snacks.
Click here to see the health report for Area 50 One.