Dirty Dining: Well-known breakfast spot repeatedly had live roaches and improper food temperatures

TAMPA - "We come a lot. We love Denny's. My kids love Denny's," said Queennae George, a repeat customer at the Denny's location on East Fowler Avenue in Tampa.

In fact, Queennae comes four or five times a month, especially for the freebies.

"They got the free kids meal on Tuesdays. They eat free on Tuesdays! Stuff like that, so we bring them here," Queennae said.

But Denny's meals, available 24/7, were prepared alongside roaches crawling around the cooks line, server station and front counter during two state inspections in June.  

"That's all been taken care of," said Eddie Areizaga, who introduced himself as the new general manager.

Areizaga defended the restaurant but didn't know much about the recent food safety issues or the state's repeated warnings to clean up.

"They were repeat violations. You've had issues with roaches before?" asked ABC Action News anchor Wendy Ryan.

"I just started with the company about a week ago," he said.

But inspectors didn't just start finding problems now. Roaches were crawling in the kitchen last year, too. In July 2013, the state found live roaches inside a hole in the wall, on the cooks line and near the dish machine.

And over the past year and a half, dozens of repeat food temperature violations were discovered, including breakfast ingredients like eggs, pancake batter, cheese, ham, turkey and butter all stored in temperatures above 41 degrees, which could make customers sick.

"So you didn't know anything about the previous inspections either?" Ryan asked.

"No ma'am," Areizaga replied.

And even with 96 violations written up from January 2013 to June 2014, Areizaga feels confident now about the conditions inside his restaurant.

"So the kitchen is clean?" Ryan asked.

"Yeah," he responded.

The dedicated Denny's customer we met wasn't deterred after learning what inspectors found.

"Would you come back, Queennae?" Ryan asked.

"Yes, I would," she answered confidently.

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DENNY'S RESPONSE:

"At Denny's, we are committed to providing a clean and safe environment for our guests. We are disappointed by the situation that took place at our Tampa location, and worked diligently with the Health Department and outside vendors to rectify the problem as soon as we were aware of it. We voluntarily closed the restaurant as a precautionary measure to ensure the issue was addressed appropriately and swiftly. The restaurant has reopened and we have put measures in place to prevent a situation like this from happening again."

Christopher Wicks
Director of Operations

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