In an act of leniency, the Board of Health will allow Great Wall Restaurant a last, last chance at keeping its business open.
Voting two to one, after a two-hour plus hearing, the board is allowing the restaurant one last chance to completely clean up its act.
Board members Glenn French and Dilip Jain voted in favor of letting the restaurant keep its food license, under strict provisions. Deirdre O'Connor voted no.
"You are setting a precedent for how far a restaurant can push this," said O'Connor. "I am not willing to put the public at risk anymore. I understand that it's a question of livelihood versus lives."
Great Wall will be on probation, as it was, until the board's next meeting in June, during which time it must implement a day of training on safe food practices before reopening.
before the Board of Health.
Great Wall is a family-owned business (with only the chef un-related) managed by Wen Quin Lin, known as Carol.
After committing more critical violations found during spot inspections by Health Agent Jamie Terry, Great Wall was brought before the board for the revocation hearing. It was the first hearing of its type Terry had seen in her ten years in Northborough.
Terry conducted four inspections at Great Wall within the past three weeks, since it had reopened. Though she notes "vast improvements," several visits resulted in more violations.
During some visits, such as April 26 and May 4, there were no critical violations but some noncritical. On April 23, she noted that there was "mouse activity in teh ceiling in the dining area." She also found a ventilation unit that she thought did not meet the fire code. The fire department confirmed that. There were also electrical violations noted.
On this past May 8, Terry visited the establishment and found five critical violations.
"I have to admit," said Terry, "that there was activity when I walked in to the back room, and employees started quickly grabbing food and running it in to the walk-in fridge. Specifically the General Gau chicken. I called them to ask them what they just brought in."
Chicken wings and General Gau chicken were found to be at 55 degrees. Terry requires that raw food be thrown away if it's above 50 degrees. Terry also found sauces that were expired in the refrigerator.
French, who most adamantly questioned whether the restaurant would adequately improve, ultimately voted in favor of extending the restaurant's probation period, and proposed the strict provisions.
His decision, he says, was primarily based on Great Wall's recent hiring of Dr. Sam Wong, a food protection manager from West Boylston, who is helping to instruct the owners of the restaurant on following safe food practices.
"This will be a last resort," said French. "No more critical violations can happen. I will move that it's an immediate shutdown and revocation will be on the table. And that's pretty much where it will go. The only reason I leaned toward not revoking the license is because Mr. Wong is here today."
During the hearing, Terry reiterated the numerous findings since Great Wall's opening that led to subsequent temporary closings. Critical violations, many of them repeated offenses, included raw meat left out at room temperatures, lack of gloves, unmarked ingredients, the presense of rodent droppings, and food stored in used carboard boxes.
Some family members cried when asking through interpretations by Dr. Wong that the board "show mercy."
Owners were also represented by Attorney Russell Chan, who compounded the family's insistence that they had been led astray by audit company ESI Qual International.
"We understand that there is a history here of having to appear before the board," said Chan, "and recognize that there are a number of violations and there continue to be violations. But we want to point out to you that we've tried to correct issues every step of the way."
Great Wall argues that ESI Qual did not share its findings with the restaurant. Board members pointed out that even without knowing those findings, Great Wall has come before the Northborough Board of Health on numerous occasions, and should be aware and educated about "how to run a restaurant."
"It seems to me that no one at the restaurant knew what was going on," said French. "You can't tell me that this restaurant wasn't on notice on certain violations that appeared constantly over a period of time."
"Why are we relying on consultants to do the owners' job?" asked Deirdre O'Connor, board member. "We can't keep blaming the teacher."
Great Wall will be closed until Dr. Wong visits the site for training, which could be as soon as Wednesday. He will then follow up for a second visit when the restaurant is back open.
"I don't think it's the board's job to educate the people of Great Wall," said French, "but I think they should be educated. It's their responsibility that when they open a restaurant that they know what the heck they are doing, and clearly they don't. You come in and say it's not their fault, and that they hired a bad consultant. Well, it is their fault. After hearing an hour of paraphrasing on what Jamie Terry has documented, this is a calamity. They aren't students; they are business owners who are supposed to know what they are doing. This is not a normal thing to have the Board of Health have to come out to a restaurant every month."
"When I read your report," said Attorney Chan, the word calamity doesn't come to mind. Words such as good faith and effort come to mind."
"I didn't use that word," said Terry.
"I used that word and I think it's fairly accurate," said French.
During the period until the next board meeting on June 12, Terry will make unscheduled visits to the restaurant, and Great Wall is also required to hire, and pay for, a second inspector that will report to Terry. If a critical violation is found, the restaurant will be closed until the June 12 hearing, when there will be another revocation hearing.