ST. PETERSBURG, Florida— Many customers say it's hard to beat the taste of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. The fast food chain is known for its fried chicken with a Cajun flair.
"The mashed potatoes are good and I like the biscuits," said loyal customer Sheena Davis.
But customers who stopped by the Popeyes on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg would have found a closed restaurant two weeks ago after state health inspectors shut the restaurant down July 16 as an emergency closure with 9 violations. The problems included standing water throughout the kitchen and 12 live roaches running around behind the hot holding unit in the prep area and beside a cooler on the chicken cook line.
The inspector was also unable to verify the food manager's certification, finding no proof of state required training for any of the employees handling food, a repeat violation from 2013.
"I hate to say it, but its sloppy management," said food safety trainer David Steck of Serve it Up Safe. Steck says it's especially important for supervisors to be properly trained to make sure other employees are properly washing their hands, not coming to work sick and keeping foods at safe temperatures.
A Popeyes in St. Pete is closed for a variety of violations.
"It's that manager, called the person in charge, who is fully responsible for preventing the contamination of the food," Steck said.
So last week 10 News stopped in to see how many of the violations had been corrected.
We ran into owner Larry Newsome on his way into the restaurant.
"I don't really have anything to say about that other than I think we were treated very unfairly. That's the only comment I have," Newsome said.
Asked if he had a copy of the restaurant's health inspection report as required by Florida law, Newsome said, "Not that I intend to give to you."
Newsome left the restaurant almost as quickly as he arrived, quickly walking out the side exit.
"I have no further comments," he said on his way out the door.
But we still had questions, including wanting to know if employees ever received the proper training.
"Oh. I don't know nothing about that," said shift manager Quanyin Johnson, who says she's worked at the restaurant for eight years. "I can't do nothing about that right now."
When asked again if she herself had ever gone through the required food safety manager training, she said, "I can't do nothing at this time. ... I did a lot. I mean ... I'm not a manager."
A name tag on Johnson's shirt read SHIFT MANGER.
Leaving the restaurant we made one last request to see the restaurant's inspection report.
"Get out of here bro! Go … Go…," said an unidentified cook flinging what appeared to be small fragments of raw chicken and flour toward or camera with his hands.
When we again informed the staff that not providing a copy of their health inspection report was a violation of Florida law, no one seemed to care.
"Man, get out of here … bye!"
10 News ended up getting a copy from the state and showed it to customers.
10 News told customers the restaurant had been closed down a week earlier with roaches running around the kitchen and many were shocked.
"WHAT?????!!!!! I did not know that," said Sheena Davis.
The St. Petersburg Popeye's location was cleared to reopen by state health inspectors the following day with zero remaining violations. It is unclear if employees ever received the required state training to handle food, or if they were granted an extension from the inspector.
Popeye's corporate office sent 10 News a written statement responding to our request for information: "At Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen, the safety and welfare of our guests is our number one priority. This location is independently owned and operated and we are working directly with the franchise owner as they investigate the situation to ensure that the restaurant meets the highest standards."
Popeye's did not respond to a followup email requesting information on the employee training issue.
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