This week's Triangle Troubleshooter comes from the restaurant inspections excerpts that run in the North Raleigh News, Midtown Raleigh News and other community weeklies produced by The News & Observer. These are interesting, but we warn you - they may stop you from eating out.
A report that ran last month in NRN caught our attention. It said that Family Buffet on Capital Boulevard in Wake Forest was taking used oyster shells, washing them, then refilling the shells with canned oyster meat.
Troubleshooter found that Wake County's Web site lists all the restaurant inspections in the county. That's because the reports are public documents. (See the box for more details on how to find your favorite restaurant's inspection report in Wake, Orange and Durham counties. Johnston County's ratings are not listed on its Web site.)
The Web site listed Family Buffet's entire inspection report from March 11.
In addition to used oyster shells, the inspector found "a large amount of live and dead roaches throughout the kitchen and storage areas," the report said. "Today is second visit in two weeks due to complaints of roaches in facility."
The restaurant was given a "30-day intent to suspend permit due to operator's lack of gaining control of roach problem," Wake County inspector Jason Royal wrote in the report.
As for those oyster shells, Royal said he never saw the staff refilling them. He found them in the freezer and surmised that's what the staff was doing. The staff threw them out that day, Royal told Troubleshooter this week from his cell phone between inspections.
After his March 11 inspection, Royal gave Family Buffet a 76.5 grade - the lowest score in the county last month, according to Francis Breedlove, Wake's food sanitation section chief. (The department does 500 inspections a month.) A restaurant's permit is revoked when its score gets below 70. Breedlove said the county rarely revokes permits unless the public's health is at risk.
Royal re-inspected Family Buffet on March 31. The restaurant received a slightly better score of 81.5, according to that report, also listed on the Web site. But on the second inspection, the inspector still noticed dead and live roaches, according to the report.
Triangle Troubleshooter called Family Buffet's owner, Cai Chen, on Friday. He said the inspector is being too picky over minor issues and that he won't help Chen fix them. Instead he just gives the restaurant a bad grade, Chen said.
Chen said he contracts with a pest control company and showed Royal the paperwork. He even asked who Royal recommended to clean up the roaches.
"I told him they spray every month," Chen said. "Inspectors don't care."
Chen added that the restaurant is not refilling used oyster shells. Someone, he said, forgot to throw the shells away.
The owner said he has a big restaurant and serves 100 items on his buffet, so it's hard to keep every little thing perfect. Royal found a few little things and took points away, Chen said.
"We try to work very hard," Chen said. "We're not like a small restaurant. McDonald's only has 10 items on the menu. We have seafood, beef, vegetables and dessert. We cook that much food every day. They should know it's much harder."
Chen said he asked Royal to inspect his restaurant again two days after the March 31 re-inspection, but Royal said he would be back in 15 days.
"I told him you should help us, not just give us a bad grade, especially now that the economy is so bad," Chen said. "People are just trying to make a living, but they just don't understand. They just want to give you as hard of a time as they can. And it's not major stuff."