LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — It's something restaurant customers fear and hope is an urban legend. But it allegedly happened at Hong Kong Garden Seafood and Dim Sum Cafe on Spring Mountain and Lindell roads.
One of its own employees filed a complaint that they were re-serving old customer leftovers to new patrons.
The complaint filed July 13 with the Health District says Hong Kong Garden kitchen staff were scraping rice from customer plates back into the rice cooker to be served to other guests.
"I doubt very much that happened," said Food Safety Consultant Tim Moulson, who was hired by owner Ruili Wang to help turn things in her restaurant around.
"The employee--we think, we don't know who it is but we think--is one that asked for a considerable amount more money. And she of course couldn't afford it. Because of COVID, sales are down. So he tried to get back at her."
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Health inspectors didn't witness them re-using rice but did validate other issues in the complaint, like a walk-in cooler that wasn’t working well, tons of food at unsafe temperatures and improper handwashing, all of which led to a shutdown on July 13 with 42 demerits.
They also had a multi-generational cockroach infestation.
Owner Ruili Wang said it's all "Because I don't have enough people working. Right now I'm trying to hire people but nobody wants to work. Nobody wants a job. So, I just can do my best."
Wang is a Dirty Dining repeat offender. Not at Hong Kong Garden Seafood and Dim Sum Cafe, but at another nearby restaurant she owned with a similar name.
"This is not her first time on Dirty Dining," said Moulson. "Her commitment is there. I think her frustration is the fact that the employees don't... The employees seem to have her hostage. They don't respond to her very well."
Moulson says all goes well when he's watching, "But when I'm not there, things tend to slip away, slip away, slip away."
Wang blamed the roach infestation on the excessive summer heat.
"Every month, twice a month, we have pest control coming. But still, the roaches still come. It's very hot. You know this. This year is very hot. Roaches, I don't know where they're from."
Moulson said the heat was just part of the problem.
"When we discovered the pests, which I think is the result of the grease build-up, we got rid of their pest control company. And we're still on an aggressive treatment now."
The grease build-up he mentioned is another violation health inspectors found. So much grease had accumulated on the ventilation hood that it was dripping onto food prep and cooking areas.
There was also heavy grease and old food on and under deep fryers, the hot line and cooking equipment and cooler handles were sticky from grease build-up.
"She's down to basically a skeleton crew right now and they're not paying as much attention to the cleanliness that they used to," said Moulson.
He says she lost her cleaning crew but has since hired an outside service.
"We pulled all the equipment away and steam cleaned the kitchen--walls, floors, ceiling, everything."
They had to pay particular attention to the area outside the restaurant's back door.
"The back alley was very, very filthy," Moulson acknowledged.
Health inspectors labeled it a nuisance due to sludgy waste, old equipment and even some food.
"I think that was food that was going to the trash but never made it."
Moulson says the alley, which is shared with three other restaurants, posed a particular problem with grease disposal for an unlikely reason.
"Grease theft right now is at an all-time high. I have videos just as recently as last weekend where somebody's been along with a truck, lifted up the whole grease bin and taken it away."
Believe it or not, there's a resale market for used grease, which he says is driving the rise in grease bin thefts.
After it was hit, Hong Kong Garden poured used grease into alley gutters.
Moulson says they've since bought a new grease container that they roll inside every night until it can be properly disposed of.
Other areas of concern: dirty dishes and utensils in clean storage; multiple flies in the food prep area; shrimp thawing in the sink next to dirty dishes; a colander of cooked chicken stored directly on top of raw beef; and a walk-in cooler, which was a haphazard, disorganized mess of uncovered food and cross-contamination.
"If you looked at it today, if they let us in, it wouldn't be that way," said Moulson.
Wang didn't want us to come in, so we couldn't see for ourselves but Moulson says they replaced the walk-in cooler floor, got new food racks and reorganized everything.
"The ongoing problem is, do the employees put it back there when they're not being watched? And that's partly my responsibility. I have to make sure that I catch them."
Moulson is helping Hong Kong Garden keep better track of inventory and changing customer patterns so they don't over-order and wind up with food waste.
He says the future focus comes down to one thing.
"Follow-up training. That's the answer. And it's not just this restaurant but a lot of restaurants now because they're down in staff, they're 'too busy.' They're looking after the customers and they don't understand the importance of looking after the customers correctly."
Hong Kong Garden got its "A" grade back on July 30.
Of the nine food trucks and trailers the Health District shut down over a two-week period, one stands out.
D and S Enterprises operates a taco trailer on Canyon Road in Boulder City.
It was shut down July 20 with 57 demerits and four imminent health hazards: no hot water, gross unsanitary conditions, improper disposal of liquid waste and inadequate refrigeration.
A container of excessively soiled water holding in-use utensils dripped directly into an open can of cooked beef.
A Windex container had been refilled with what inspectors described as a putrid-smelling, unknown chemical substance.
In-use fryer baskets and taco holders were so dirty with encrusted old food they were no longer cleanable.
And the trailer was infested with flies.
After that inspection, the Health District tells us the owner chose to permanently close.
Protobites food trailer was shut down July 19 for conditions that may endanger public health.
It also got 27 demerits.
Protobites, which operates in conjunction with a gym on Paseo Verde Parkway and Stephanie Street, was and using the gym’s tap water source, which owner Mike Beauchamp said was previously approved.
The Health District also wrote him up for disposing liquid waste directly into the sewer via a grease interceptor, which he also says was previously approved.
Food in the temperature danger zone that had to be thrown out included chicken, rice, sweet potatoes, salmon, and beef.
There was also no sanitizer set up during active food prep and the cutting board was dirty and stained.
Beauchamp said, “This was a permitting issue due to a glitch during construction. No one knew there was an issue for three years. We cook healthy food and take pride in what we do. This is not dirty dining.”
Protobites food trailer is still closed.
Pollos Culiacan’s #3 truck is a Dirty Dining repeat offender that was recently on in May.
This time, it was shut down for failing re-inspection.
Pollos Culiacan was taken out of service at Rancho and Vegas drives on July 20.
Health inspectors were following up on multiple complaints about food being stored and prepared in an unmarked van. In addition, a complainant reported receiving food that wasn’t hot and feeling sick after eating it.
Health inspectors say it was operating out of an unpermitted sprinter van with an electrical connection running from a tire shop.
Other violations included a cashier who took money then grabbed a customer’s food without washing hands.
Grilled chicken, cooked beans, shredded cheese and salsas had to be thrown out due to unsafe temperatures.
And there was no knowledgeable person in charge.
It was re-inspected on July 28 and received a 3-demerit "A" grade.
The owner said, “The problem is that it was very hot and hard to get the right temperature in a mobile unit. We use the van to keep food cold. We applied for a special permit for that but now we're using a commissary and have to go there four times a day."
Tropicana Pizza at Lake Mead Tavern on Lake Mead Boulevard East and Toiyabe Street was shut down on July 20 for a multi-generational cockroach infestation.
Walls and food equipment were dusty and dirty with old food.
Shelves by the pizza oven and computer desk were dirty with old food and grease.
Food debris and grease had accumulated under the pizza oven, shelving and deep fryer.
Coving and caulking around the floor were in disrepair, there were holes in the ceiling, and dirty electrical panels and outlets.
Other violations included improper handwashing; a container of chicken wings at room temperature on the prep table; chicken wing containers double-stacked without barriers; and a container of raw wings stored on a trash can.
Roach tablets and bait traps were used without licensed pest control and the person in charge was not knowledgeable about basic food safety.
It was re-inspected on July 23 and received an 8-demerit "A" grade.
Manager Julie Mitchell said, "As far as the violations, I know there are no excuses but we are extremely short-handed--running on a skeleton crew--because we have no employees. Even our hours, we've been forced to shut down at 9:30 p.m. and we used to be open until 2:00 a.m. for the longest time. I had a new employee that day and he didn't wash his hands for the complete 15 seconds, and then there were a few roaches by the sink area but it's all cleaned up now and we are back to an A grade. We're just a small business trying to make it in this pandemic which is really a headache for everybody."
The deli inside 7-Eleven on Eastern and Sahara avenues was shut down on July 21 for two imminent health hazards: improper disposal of liquid waste and inadequate employee handwashing facilities.
It also got 24 demerits and was ordered to immediately cease and desist all food handling.
Inspectors went there to follow up on a complaint that 7-Eleven was selling rotten black bananas and spoiled chicken.
They didn't find that but did document sewage backing up out of floor drains.
Cooked chicken skewers, cooked pizza and taquitos had to be thrown out due to unsafe temperatures.
The person in charge was not available and employees were not knowledgeable in basic food safety.
We were unable to reach anyone for comment.
It was re-inspected on July 28 and received a zero-demerit "A" grade.
Nic’s Shrimp House food truck was shut down on July 21 for inadequate refrigeration.
The shutdown came during a re-inspection requested by the owner after a previous "B" grade, but there were numerous repeat violations plus an imminent health hazard.
A large container of cheese sauce and coleslaw had to be thrown out due to unsafe temperatures and there was a repeat violation for cooking under a malfunctioning ventilation hood.
Owner Nicole Allen said she'd only been open a short time and her units kept food cold but not cold enough. As for the hot food, the inspector didn’t give her time to bring the cheese sauce up to temperature. She was reheating it at the time. "I get food temps but it sucks to be on the news for this. Heat has caused equipment malfunction. It’s my first year on a food truck and I'm dealing with the growing pain of figuring out how food trucks work."
The truck got its "A" grade back on Aug. 10.
P Dub’s BBQ in the Boulevard mall food court on Maryland Parkway was shut down July 22 with 42 demerits and the imminent health hazard of inadequate refrigeration.
A maintenance technician was working on the equipment during the inspection.
Water from the fridge condenser was dripping directly into uncovered containers of onions and tomatoes.
There was an expired container of yogurt in the fridge dating back to May 23.
A pan of cooked ribs, salsa, spaghetti and boiled yams had to be thrown out due to unsafe temperatures.
A container of frozen chicken was stored on a step stool in front of the hand sink.
A spray bottle previously used for chemicals was being reused to store the restaurant's secret sauce.
It was re-inspected on July 26 and received a zero-demerit "A" grade.
Owner Percy Woods said, “The Health District sucks. They charged $1400 because I couldn’t get my refrigeration colder. They're just nit-picking, looking for stuff to write up so they can make money. They can find stuff anytime they want. I got all new refrigerators and I'm up and running again so I’m not worried about them."
Mandarin Express on East Lake Mead and Hollywood boulevards was shut down on July 15 for a multi-generational cockroach infestation.
Live and dead roaches were found in the food prep area, on counters, inside the door frame of the glass door refrigerator and in sinks.
It also got 23 demerits.
There was a lot of uncovered food subject to contamination.
A dirty deli slicer and can opener were stored as clean.
Excessive grease and old food dirtied the area under the grill, as well as prep areas, refrigeration units and the sauce storage rack.
All fridges were dirty with old food as were the floor sinks.
It was re-inspected on July 19 and received a zero-demerit "A" grade.
The owner had no comment.
Camaradas Mexican Italian Kitchen, a food trailer outside a car wash on Torrey Pines Drive and Sahara Avenue, was shut down July 15 for no potable water.
Inspectors also wrote up a repeat violation for food being at unsafe temperatures.
The owner said he's been in business for three years, calling this inspection "Grossly unfair. We were cinged for violations that were not previously an issue. I can’t afford the $1400 closure fee. We were treated way too severely. If I can be shut down this easily, what’s going to stop them from doing it again? Food trucks are judged more harshly than restaurants. I chose to close my business after this experience, ending my dream and something I worked really hard to achieve because I wanted to walk away on my own terms."
Pollo a Las Brasas food trailer on Charleston and Jones boulevards was shut down July 15 for two imminent health hazards: no hot water and improper disposal of liquid waste.
When the inspector went to wash hands, the water coming out of the hand sink was brown.
The operator said they are getting water from an individual who brings it to the unit and not from a commissary.
Our voicemail message requesting a comment was not returned.
It was re-inspected on July 16 and received a zero-demerit "A" grade.
Multiple-time repeat offender Kenya’s Catering had a truck shut down in Inspirada on July 14 for inadequate refrigeration.
The owner said the inspector "Caught us on a hot day and refrigeration just didn't get to where it’s supposed to. We were busy and opening and closing the fridge. We didn’t have to fix anything. We're monitoring temperatures every day and may close earlier on hot days to avoid a repeat of this problem."
Kenya's was re-inspected on July 15 and received a zero-demerit "A" grade.
The Protein Source on Durango Drive and Arby Avenue was shut down July 13 for inadequate refrigeration.
It also got 25 demerits.
A cook handled raw turkey, then proceeded to prepare food without handwashing.
The cook also picked something up off the floor and touched open food without handwashing.
Rolls of raw bison were thawing at room temperature.
Grocery bags held raw salmon in the freezer.
Owner Claude Barboni said it was an "Unexpected day when four refrigeration units failed at the same time. The high temperatures got us and caused our refrigerators to overwork. We reached out to a technician on the spot but the inspector wouldn’t wait for him to come. Our delivery of food came at same time and we couldn’t put it away fast enough. Our general manager panicked and couldn't answer the inspector's questions. I'm very disappointed as we've had "A" grades for 10 years but there's no excuse. It’s our responsibility."
It was re-inspected the next day on July 14 and received a zero demerit "A" grade.
Chinese Gourmet Express in the Boulevard mall food court on Maryland Parkway was shut down July 13 for inadequate refrigeration.
It also got 31 demerits including a repeat violation for food in the temperature danger zone.
We were unable to reach anyone for comment
It was back to a 9-demerit "A" grade on July 26.
El Cevichon food trailer on Rancho Drive between Spring Road and Melody Lane was shut down July 15 for no potable water and improper disposal of liquid waste.
It also got 37 demerits.
A food handler grabbed chips for a customer with bare hands. When he washed, it was only for five seconds.
The wastewater tank was overflowing and leaking onto the ground.
Octopus and clam meat was in the temperature danger zone.
Raw fish was stored above customer beverages and raw steak above tortillas.
And there was no hand soap in the employee restroom.
The owner said, "We had a dispute on the closure and are waiting for a response from the Health District. Violations written up this time weren’t an issue in the past."
It was back to a 3-demerit "A" grade on July 21.
Tacos La Chata, a repeat offender food truck at the tire shop on 30th Street and Charleston Boulevard, was shut down July 15 with 44 demerits and two imminent health hazards: inadequate refrigeration and pest infestation.
Wastewater was leaking onto the ground.
Raw beef, salsa, shredded mozzarella, and horchata had to be thrown out due to unsafe temperatures.
There was an open employee beverage on the cutting board and an avocado sat in pooled water.
Multiple flies were buzzing around the food prep area, landing in the sink, on walls and on equipment.
A black garbage bag was in direct contact with cooked tongue in the steam table.
Tacos La Chata has a documented history of non-compliance, so intervention training was required.
We were unable to get a comment from the owner.