Restaurant News & Reviews

‘Working to get it clean.’ These Coast buffets repeatedly cited in health inspections

The new owners of Panda Palace Buffet in Gulfport have a tough history to overcome, and so far it has been a challenge.

The restaurant at the Crossroads in Gulfport has failed inspections by the Mississippi Health Department 10 times in the last 6 years. Most recently, the restaurant was cited for critical violations during an inspection on Nov. 1.

Cited on Oct. 30 was Kien Giang Vietnamese Restaurant, 10598 D’Iberville Blvd., D’Iberville. The Vietnamese restaurant was cited for improper date marking and disposition. Five other violations were corrected during the inspection: for not having hands clean and properly washed, adequate hand washing facilities, food separated and protected, food contact surface cleaned and sanitized, or proper cold holding temperatures.

Yunmei Weng, one of the new owners of the Panda Palace, is listed on the business corporation with the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office on July 16.

He was aware of issues with the previous owner, he said.

The low point under the previous owner came in July 2018, when customers filed complaints after seeing “full-size roaches” at the Gulfport buffet. The health inspector who responded saw 2 live bugs and several dead ones near the sushi area. The former restaurant owner was ordered to continue pest control services until all the bugs were gone.

The Health Department does have procedures in place when a restaurant keeps failing its inspections, said Serena Johnson, director of the Food Protection Division at Mississippi State Department of Health.

“The Panda Palace just changed ownership this year and the health inspectors are working with the new owner to help him/her get in compliance,” she said.

Weng said the first thing the did when they bought the restaurant was to clean. “We keep working to get it clean,” he said.

During the Nov. 1 inspection, the Gulfport buffet was cited for not having food separated and protected and for food contact surface cleaned and sanitized, which are repeat offenses.

These same issues were noted and corrected at an Aug. 20 inspection, when the restaurant got a B, and many other times over the past 6 years.

Weng said they had cleaned the outside of the ice machine but didn’t realize the inside also needed some attention. The inspector pointed it out, he said.

The restaurant has lots of choices, spread out across 8 stations, including sushi. Weng said they add crab legs and oysters to the seafood buffet on the weekends.

Their regular customers, many of them seniors, he said, like the way they are treated by the staff of about 15. “The staff has never been changed,” he said.

The D’Iberville location of Panda Palace has received a C for critical violations 7 times since 2014. The most recent C came in July, when the restaurant was cited for repeat offenses of improper eating, tasting, drinking or tobacco use; inadequate hand-washing facilities; and food not separated and protected, plus food surface not cleaned and sanitized.

The owner of that location is listed with the state as Sheng Bin Weng. The owner of the Gulfport store said they know each other because they are all Chinese, but are not related.

Restaurants and other food service establishments are rated A if they pass the Health Department inspection, B if violations are corrected during the inspection and C if the violations are critical.

The Health Department offers food safety training at restaurants, Johnson said. Restaurant owners and managers can contact MSDH’s South Region supervisor Lisa Taylor at 601-583-0291. They also can contact the Restaurant and Hospitality Association for a schedule of classes throughout the state at 601-420-4210.

Mary Perez is the business and casino reporter for the Sun Herald and also writes about Biloxi, jobs and the new restaurants and development coming to the Coast. She is a fourth-generation journalist.