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Dirty Dining: 17 Restaurants temporarily closed by inspectors 2-4 times for roaches in the kitchen

Posted at 11:23 PM, Nov 15, 2017

In a special Dirty Dining I-Team investigation, we've uncovered restaurants with three to four emergency closures over the last few years with repeat violations but allowed to re-open, putting your health at risk.

We met Trevor Weeks as he was leaving Panda Buffet and Grill at 37915 Eiland Blvd in Zephyrhills.

"What's good?" asked ABC Action News anchor Wendy Ryan.

"The regular stuff. The egg rolls, the soups and everything. I don't see anything wrong with it," Weeks said. 

But inspectors found plenty wrong with the restaurant, shutting down Panda Buffet three times in the last three years.

Check out restaurant closures and reports:

On July 31, 2017 the restaurant had to close for two days after inspectors saw over 20 live roaches near food on the prep table during preparation and under the dish machine.

On September 7, 2016 the state's closure lasted 24-hours after two dozen live roaches and roach droppings were spotted on the cook's line and in several other areas of the kitchen including near the reach in cooler, Pepsi cooler,  hand wash sink, prep table, under the slicer and hibachi station.

And on April 15, 2015 the Chinese restaurant shut down for almost 48-hours with over 55 live roaches all over the kitchen and buffet.

Inspectors observed roaches at the dish machine, cook's line, under the prep table, hibachi station, hibachi buffet, storage area, ice machine at the server station and chest freezer.

"As long as they're trying to make some changes. I don't see anything bad," Weeks said.  

But not everyone agrees with that opinion.

"When I saw you pop up, I was like uh uh, oh no," said Demetria Godbolt, who's seven months pregnant.

Demetria had just eaten lunch at Panda Buffet.

"It is very concerning, makes my baby sick and me," Demetria said.

So Ryan went inside to get some answers and met De Lin, who said he's worked at Panda Buffet for several years.

Lin blamed the repeat roach problem on the aging building and inspectors just doing their job. 

"When they see the bug, when they find a bug, they have to do what they're supposed to. So we accept the fine and we shut down for two days," Lin explained.

But that wasn't the only fine.
Panda Buffet received over $3,000 in fines due to repeat violations not fixed over three years.

The state issued fines of $800 in 2017, $1,900 in 2016 and $400 in 2015.

"I guess you've had temperature issues, cross contamination issues. Do you guys train your employees? Have you had to retrain them?" Ryan asked.

"Yeah, yeah, we did. We did. And we fix some coolers. They all work fine now," Lin explained.

And Lin feels confident the restaurant conditions are safe. 

"You feel like the place is clean now?" Ryan asked.

"Yeah yeah," Lin responded.

"Everything's up to code?" Ryan asked.

"Yes, a lot better now," Lin said.  

But it's too late for Demetria.

"It's shocking to me," Demetria said.

"Not coming back?" Ryan asked. 

"No no no no! Never," Demetria responded.

Meanwhile, Ryan called Panda Buffet's owner, De Lin, who's not related to the employee. They just share the same name.

Over the phone, the owner said he doesn't want to make any excuses and did not have any other comment.


As we walked into Rosita's Mexican Restaurant on 741 North Wabash Avenue in Lakeland, you could hear and feel how authentic the place is, bringing customers back again and again.

But inspectors have been back again and again for a different reason, shutting the place down four times in the last year and a half. 

"Are you the manager?" Ryan asked a woman at the cash register.

"No, one moment please," she answered. 

On July 17, 2017, the state closed Rosita's after seeing live roaches near the mixer in the kitchen, under the food prep area and under the 3-compartment sink.

Inspectors also discovered 5 and a half pounds of food at temperatures that could make you sick, forcing them to throw it all out in a stop sale.

That food included cooked beef at 50°f, cooked pork at 50°, cooked chicken at 50°and milk at 50°.

Cold food in the cooler should be 41 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. 

On September 22, 2016 the restaurant was forced to shut down with over 20 live roaches near food under the flip top unit on the cook's line and near the food prep area next to the mixer.

On June 7, 2016 more roach activity in the kitchen closed its doors again with live roaches near the main cooking area, reach-in cooler and sink.

And three-weeks before that on May 17, 2016, Rosita's shut down for more roaches all over the kitchen and over 30 rodent droppings near the cook's line.

"Are you the manager?" Ryan asked another female, who walked up behind the counter.

"I am umm.  The owner's my mom," she said.

"I wanted to talk about your recent inspections. You've been shut down 3 times in the last year and a half?" Ryan asked.

"I believe so. My mom's the owner. Give me one second, OK?" as she walked back into the kitchen.

With Rosita's repeat violations not getting corrected, the state served up over $3,500 in fines in the last 3 years. 

Inspectors issued fines of $1,800 in 2016, $800 in 2015 and $1,040 in 2014.

Then, another female worker walked up to Ryan.

"Are you the manager?" Ryan asked.

"No, no she's my aunt." the woman responded, who's name is Claudia Rios. 
And no matter who Ryan spoke to, no one seemed to be in charge of the kitchen.

"I wanted to talk to someone about the inspections? You were shut down 3 times because of a roach problem?" Ryan asked.

"Like I said, she would be the only person you could talk to," Rios explained.

That one person, owner Rosa Guerra was not in nor was anyone else in charge of food safety.

"There should be a manager on duty," Ryan told Rios.

"She's not in right now," Rios responded.

For several days following that visit, Ryan called Rosita's but no one seemed to speak English over the phone.
So ABC Action News Digital Content Producer Veronica Beltran called and in Spanish was able to get a statement from the owner Rosa Guerra.

Rosita's Mexican Restaurant Statement:
The issue we had was that the companies we hired to put the chemicals for the roaches didn't come. They weren't doing their job. We had to change companies three times. Also because we are in the center of the plaza, when the businesses next to us get rid of their roaches, they come our way. It's like a war. We now have a company who is coming to our business frequently so we don't have roach issues anymore. 
We are constantly looking to make sure we don't have these issues happen again.
Rosa Guerra
Rosita's Mexican Restaurant Owner

La Giraldilla Restaurant at 1003 West Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa is known for it's authentic Cuban food. 

But inspectors have known it for roaches in the kitchen, closing the place three times in three years.

On May 24, 2017 the restaurant shut down for several hours with 25 roaches all over the kitchen including near the reach-in cooler, freezer, prep table, clean plates, and by the mixer.  

The month before that on April 6, 2017, La Giraldilla was forced to close for two days, after inspectors saw over 65 roaches behind the kitchen doors.

The roaches were discovered near the prep table, microwave, cooking equipment, the fire suppression system, three compartment sink, pizza cooler, 
reach-in freezer and slicer.
And Roach droppings were seen along the kitchen wall near the microwave.

And an emergency closure even plagued the restaurant on August 27, 2015 due to roaches and rodents.

Roach activity was seen on the dry storage shelf and next to the freezer.

And over 200 rodent droppings were found near the reach-in cooler, the pizza station and freezer.

And with all the repeat violations not corrected, the state issued fines totaling $2,800 over three years.
In May of 2017, the fines equaled $800. 

In April of 2017, the fines issued were $1,600. 

And in August of 2015, the fines totaled $400.

Ryan called La Giraldilla Restaurant several times but there was a language barrier.

So Ryan's colleague ABC Action News Reporter Michael Paluska spoke to the owner's son, Eddy Diego Junior in Spanish.

Diego said his father was in Cuba.

Diego went on to explain that a pet shop moved in next door to the restaurant two years ago and they've had problems with roaches and animals ever since.

He tried containing it but roosters and chickens were running around the pet store, giving them problems.

He called a company to fumigate and seal their restaurant so bugs don't get in.

He also said the business never wanted to hurt their community by closing down and they fixed the problems.