Honolulu restaurant reopens after possible E. coli link
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
Peppa's Korean BBQ reopened its South King Street drive-in restaurant yesterday, with its owner showing reporters documents from the state Department of Health stating he was allowed to do so.
Only the day before, the restaurant shut down after the Health Department said four of seven people who reported E. coli bacterial infections in March had eaten there.
Of the seven confirmed cases, four were hospitalized, including an elderly person who remains in serious condition. It's unclear how many of the four hospitalized had actually eaten at Peppa's.
Health Department officials could not be reached yesterday, a state holiday, to confirm the restaurant had been cleared to reopen.
Patrick Kang, branch manager of the South King Street location, said the owner, Chong Hon Kim, closed the restaurant Thursday to allow health inspectors to finish their investigation and so employees could clean up the kitchen without interruption.
Kang, who is Kim's brother-in-law, said he had received an hour of food safety training from a Health Department inspector Thursday and that Kang was told to pass the information along to his employees.
One of the Health Department documents shown to reporters was signed by inspector Peter Oshiro and dated April 1. It said: "All samples taken from the restaurant (11 samples) were all negative for the E. coli O157 organism. No positives samples were found."
Another document, dated yesterday and signed by inspector Paul Maeda, stated that Peppa's Korean BBQ had met 10 Health Department conditions and was approved to operate.
"So basically, everything is OK," said Dennis Jung, an attorney for the restaurant.
On Thursday, the Health Department issued a news release stating that Peppa's wouldn't reopen until it undergoes an intensive mitigation plan to correct permit violations. In addition, restaurant managers were to attend a Sanitation Branch food safety certification workshop to learn about proper food-handling practices.
NO PRIOR VIOLATIONS
Kang said yesterday that news reports of the shutdown had slowed business to a trickle. "Hopefully, business will come back to normal real soon," he said.
The restaurant had not received any prior sanitation violations, according to Jung. Kang said he's never received complaints of anyone getting sick, including any of his employees who eat meals prepared there.
The Health Department said Peppa's was last inspected in January.
A sprinkling of regular customers who showed up to purchase plate lunches yesterday were unfazed by the commotion.
Punchbowl resident Lihne Bermudez, 29, said she and her 6-year-old son, Antonio, eat at the South King Street Peppa's almost twice a week.
"He loves this place," she said, nodding at her son.
Their favorite dishes are the barbecue chicken and $6 steak plates. "This restaurant is really, really good," she said.
The two will continue to dine at the establishment, Bermudez said. "The main thing is they wash their hands," she said.
Makiki resident Rab Guild, 80, said he and his wife, Alice, eat a variety of dishes at Peppa's about once a week and have never had any problems there.
"It's always been very clean for us, and it's very tasty and convenient," Guild said.
The Health Department said the seven diagnosed cases of infection by the E. coli 0157:H7 strain occurred between March 2 and March 23. After it was confirmed that four of the seven had eaten at Peppa's, state Sanitation Branch inspectors were dispatched to the restaurant, where they observed food-handling violations, a department spokeswoman said Thursday.
Those violations, coupled with confirmation of the Peppa's connection, caused inspectors to issue a "notice of permit suspension" and a cease-and-desist order against the restaurant.
The only other time in recent history that a local restaurant was shut down due to an E. coli outbreak occurred in 2008 when Sekiya's Restaurant and Delicatessen in Kaimukī was closed for several weeks when seven patrons came down with severe diarrhea.
Chong Hon Kim owns all three Peppa's on O'ahu. The other two are in Makiki and Mānoa, and they were not involved in the E. coli investigation and remained open.