LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Pho Little Saigon on Spring Mountain and Valley View is a three-time Dirty Dining repeat offender.
Under various owners, the restaurant has been on the wrong side of the health code off and on for years, but is working hard to set things right.
Pho Little Saigon was shut down Jan. 27 for a cockroach infestation. Inspectors saw at least a dozen multi-generational roaches "Vigorously moving within a thick layer of food and grease in the metal pan under the cook line."
"It was all in the back of the tray but, yes, you're right, they were moving. I've seen worse!" said Tim Moulson, the man known as 'the fixer' for restaurants in real trouble. The seasoned food safety consultant specializes in turning ethnic restaurants around.
Pho Little Saigon's current owner hired Moulson to help break the restaurant's cycle of violations, downgrades and closures.
"And he's gonna do the right thing," Moulson said. "This is his first restaurant."
They were back to a zero-demerit A grade on Jan. 31.
Moulson says the recent setback came after losing two experienced managers who oversaw the kitchen.
"The problem was that after these managers left, the attention to the cleanliness in the kitchen kind of dropped. So there was grease build-up and, you know, all the things that cockroaches like to eat."
Inspectors found an excessive accumulation of food and grease throughout the kitchen.
And they found a roach at the bottom of an uncovered container of cooking oil.
Moulson says Pho Little Saigon is in a very old building where pest infestation has been an issue on and off for a long time.
This is not the first time the restaurant has been shut down for a roach infestation.
Moulson says all the equipment was pulled out of the kitchen, steam-cleaned and scrubbed. The owner voluntarily stayed closed for five days to make sure all the bugs were gone.
"In the meantime, we sat with the entire staff and I did remedial training," Moulson explained.
Other violations included mold in the ice machine, dirty utensils stored as clean, a dirty slicer, pans stored as clean containing a standing brown liquid, bowls dirty with food debris and dirty food scissors stored inside a pipe.
Inspectors also found employees eating and drinking while preparing customers' food.
"If you came to my office and I was a doctor and I was gonna operate on you, do you want me to put you on a clean table or a dirty table? Do you want me to use a clean knife or a dirty knife? Do you want me to eat a sandwich while I'm cutting your head open?" Moulson uses that analogy to put cross-contamination in perspective when training staff.
He says culture is the most common barrier to proper food handling as he works to help bridge the gap with those who come from other countries.
"In those local areas, the people have grown more immunity towards those common bacteria. Here in America, we live in a sterile land and as a result our immune systems have dumbed way down."
Perhaps the biggest change restaurant owners will have to get used to is a huge hike in Health District fees. Violating health code has just gotten much more expensive.
On Feb. 1, the C downgrade fee nearly tripled, going from $477 to $1200. The closure fee doubled to $1400 from $716.
"It's basically the Health District's way of letting them know that it's more serious than just a matter of being closed and open tomorrow," said Moulson. "The fee structure, I think, is going to hurt a lot of restaurants. I think a lot of restaurants are going to end up being closed."
The Health District says, "In addition to serving as a deterrence, fees are calculated to cover the cost of Environmental Health services. The last fee increase in Environmental Health was in 2009. The fee structure was no longer covering costs for Environmental Health services."
Repeat offender Asian BBQ & Noodle on Jones between Spring Mountain and Desert Inn got the highest demerits with a 39-demerit C grade on its Jan. 29 inspection.
Multiple employees went into the back alley and returned to the kitchen to prepare food without washing hands.
They'd set a sheet tray on top of a trash can to chop bok choy.
Cutting boards were dirty, floors and walls behind equipment were filthy with heavy grease and food debris.
Beef bone marrow was being thawed in standing water in the mop sink.
There was a large pot of beef intestine and a container of dried bok choy on the floor.
Knives were stored in a gap between the wall and prep table.
A bottle of bleach was stored on top of clean water glasses.
An employee's drink was touching clean customer plates.
Beef intestines were thawing under a sink at room temperature.
And the kitchen floor was in disrepair.
There was also a bone saw inspectors said was "not to be used for contact with food." Employees said it wasn't, making us wonder just what they were using it for.
Due to consecutive C downgrades, Asian BBQ & Noodle was placed in the Health District's administrative process requiring intervention training.
It still has a C grade.
Asian BBQ & Noodle Owner Tony Luong says they're looking forward to more training and are committed to doing things the way the Health District wants them to.
Click here to see the health report for Pho Little Saigon.
Click here to see the health report for Asian BBQ Noodles Restaurant.