UPDATED: Williamsburg Chinese restaurant, closed over dead deer incident, can reopen with some restrictions
Workers at Red Flower Chinese Restaurant in Williamsburg loaded a trash can filled with something into the trunk of a car shortly after the restaurant was closed down by health inspectors Thursday. The closure came when a dead deer was discovered inside.
A Williamsburg Chinese restaurant, which was shut down when a dead deer was found inside it Thursday afternoon, will have to undergo increased inspections, when it re-opens.
Paul Lawson, an environmentalist with the Whitley County Health Department, said that the restaurant would be allowed to reopen after a thorough wash, rinse and sanitizing of every area of the restaurant that the deer was in.
Lawson said Tuesday morning that restaurant owners hadn't contacted him yet about doing a re-inspection.
"When they reopen, the inspection interval is going to increase to quarterly to start with. We will see how that goes and go from there," Lawson said. "If we think there is a need to increase that even further, we will.
"This will probably be done for at least one year. Then we will re-evaluate and make that determination at that time whether we need to keep it at quarterly intervals or if it can go back to a twice a year normal inspection rate."
The incident has made headlines across Kentucky, Tennessee and elsewhere since it was first reported on the News Journal's website early Thursday evening.
Television stations in Knoxville and Lexington have contacted Lawson and on Tuesday morning Lawson did a telephone interview with WGN radio out of Chicago.
He even got a call from a former intern now living in Nashville about it.
"It seems like everybody knows about it," Lawson noted.
Lawson confirmed that the same owner was planning to open a restaurant in Corbin.
Lawson said he envisions that the negative publicity will probably impact the planned Corbin restaurant from a business perspective, but not from the health's department perspective.
"From my standpoint, it is totally two separate restaurants so it won't affect it," he added.
The Williamsburg restaurant faces no fines over what happened.
Co-workers Katie Hopkins, Tonya Thacker and Jennifer Young were sitting inside The Red Flower restaurant during lunchtime Thursday when they observed somebody wheeling in a garbage can with a hoof and tail sticking out with a box on top of it.
Hopkins said that she is picky about her food and wasn't eating but was just sitting there with her friends when the deer was pushed by.
"Two of them had a round garbage can on wheels and they had a box sitting on top of the garbage can. I saw like a tail sticking out of the garbage can and then like a hoofed leg sticking out of the garbage can. I was like, 'Oh my gosh!'" Hopkins said.
Hopkins said there was a blood trail behind the garbage can that the staff was mopping up behind them.
"I walked up to the front counter and I asked them 'What did you just wheel back into your kitchen?'" Hopkins said.
The restaurant employee told the trio he didn't know the American word for it.
"I said, 'You just wheeled a dead animal back in your kitchen.' He said, 'No. No. I don't know what you are talking about.' I said, 'I saw it. I want to see it.' He said, 'No. You're not allowed in my kitchen. You need to leave,'" Hopkins said.
Hopkins left and called the health department, and one of her friends called the maintenance person for the mall.
"It was just unbelievable. It is definitely not something that you want to see in a restaurant while you are eating," Hopkins said.
Thacker said that initially she thought it was a goat or maybe a cat's tail.
"I hadn't seen a deer with that big a tail before," Thacker added.
Thacker and Young said that unfortunately they had just gotten done eating when this occurred.
"Needless to say I went straight next door and regurgitated everything," Thacker said.
Young said that fortunately she hadn't eaten much meat, just the General Tso's. At this point, she is not quite sure if it was chicken that she was eating though.
She kept her lunch down.
All three agreed that they would never eat at the restaurant again.
"I'll probably never eat Chinese again," Young noted.
"I heard that they are opening another one. I am definitely going to find out the name of that restaurant and never eat there either," Thacker added.
Lawson said that he responded to the restaurant after the health department's environmental clerk received several calls around 1:30 p.m. about The Red Flower restaurant having a deer inside. He was "shocked" by what he discovered when he arrived there about 2:30 p.m.
"I proceeded to the restaurant to do a complaint inspection and confirmed that they did have a deer partially processed by the time I got there," Lawson said.
"Obviously that is an imminent health hazard to be processing road kill in a restaurant so I issued them a cease of operations notice to close immediately and we went through the steps they will need to do to reopen."
Once the restaurant passes its re-inspection, it will be allowed to reopen. It's up to the restaurant how hard it wants to work to get it to the point of re-inspection, Lawson said.
Lawson said that the owners told him they planned to take the deer meat home to eat. The meat was in quarters when he arrived and not cut up into individual sized portions in a back room.
It wasn't in the immediate food preparation area and no other food preparation was going on when Lawson arrived.
Lawson said he would hope that the restaurant wouldn't serve the deer to patrons, but he couldn't say with 100 percent certainty that they wouldn't.
"I try to educate and let them know what they can do, but you can't be with someone 24-7," he added.
"They said they didn't know they weren't allowed to do that, which makes me concerned they could have done that before, but they didn't admit to doing it before."
Can't serve wild game
Lawson said that this was the first call of this nature that he has gotten during his 14 years working for the health department.
Lawson said that while he has found processed wild game in restaurants before, he has never found the whole animal inside one and hopes to never find one again.
"You're not allowed to have true wild game in a restaurant period. It is a violation to have it even in the premise," he said.
Wild game meat isn't allowed because it hasn't been through a F.D.A. inspection process before it is offered for human consumption.
Lawson said there are a variety of reasons why it is bad to be processing the animal in a restaurant, including disease transmission.
"There are all kinds of diseases that can be transmitted through the intestines if fecal matter is still obviously in part of the intestines. There are all kinds of bad things inside an animal that you don't want inside a restaurant," Lawson said.
"It is bad enough that they would have just deer meat in there, which is not allowed. They were actually processing the deer. They were actually skinning the deer. They actually took it from the side of the road as it was into the restaurant."
Cited to court
Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources Sgt. Tom Land cited Hong Yang, 28, of Williamsburg, for illegal possession of whitetail deer Thursday afternoon.
According to the arrest citation, the deer "was possessed inside a public restaurant."
Lawson said that Yang is the significant other of restaurant owner Zong Chao.
Land said that this was the first call of this nature that he has ever received.
"I have been here 20 years and this is a first for me," he added.
Land said that even a road-kill deer has to be tagged or you are illegally in possession of it.
"Even if you find a deer that has been hit on the road, it is illegal for you to possess a deer without a tag. We give you a road kill tag. If you find one, we need to know about it and we'll get you the proper tag so you won't get in trouble," Land said. "If you just pick it up and we catch you with it, it is a fine. It is a citable offense."
Land said the deer was a small buck, which already had the antlers cut off when he arrived at the restaurant about 4 p.m.
Lawson said that one of the people working at the restaurant admitted to Land that he picked the animal up off the side of I-75.
About 4:40 p.m., two restaurant workers lined the trunk of a Toyota Camry with newspapers and then carried out something inside black plastic garbage bags.
About three minutes later, they wheeled a garbage can outside to the trunk of the car with something sticking out of the top of the garbage can covered in a black plastic garbage bag. They hoisted the garbage can, which they rested on the trunk with the garbage bag still sticking out of the top and the trunk open and went back inside.
Lawson confirmed that he watched the restaurant workers remove the remains of the deer before he left the restaurant Thursday.
When asked if they had any comment on the incident, the restaurant staff asked only that their pictures not be used.
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