ST. PETERSBURG, Florida—In the Tyrone Corners shopping center you'll find O.E.C. Japanese Express, a restaurant named for the Japanese word meaning delicious.
"The food seems to be very fresh," said customer Heidi Mendenhall on her way in to pick up lunch. "It has a very good taste."
But not every customer offers a glowing review. Elle Silman says on her recent visit she ordered up vegetable Hibachi.
"I've never had that kind of nastiness in my food before," said Silman. "I was eating halfway through and there was a roach on my carrot. I'd eaten half of it. There was a roach on my carrot!"
On March 3, Silman filed a complaint with the state Division of Hotels and Restaurants. A health inspector stopped in two days later issuing an emergency closure after discovering 26 violations: both dead and live roaches found on the box of plastic wrap, on lower shelves below the prep table and rice cooker, behind the grill, even inside the rims of some of the to-go container lids.
"I guess I won't be eating there," said a disappointed Mendenhall. "I had no idea!"
There were other violations too including knives stored in the crevice between the prep table and wall, raw meats co-mingled in the reach-in freezer and raw chicken being dished out using a plastic single service cup, the rim dark with food debris.
OEC Japanese Express was cleared to reopen the following day, so 10 News stopped in to find out if the restaurant was still clean.
We were greeted by restaurant staff. When we asked for permission to inspect the kitchen we were told the cooks were too busy to allow us inside.
"No, no no. Not today," said an employee.
And while employees say all the issues are now addressed up front we still spotted what appeared to be those plastic to-go cups still being used to prepare food. Some customers say they'll give OEC a second chance, but not Silman.
"I'm certainly not going anywhere where I can't find the reviews," said Silman. "I'm sticking with the places I know for a while."