A CHESTER vegan restaurant had to be shut down after food hygiene inspectors found it was rat infested.
Chai Station, on Brook Street, was visited by Cheshire West and Chester Council’s food hygiene team in October 2020, only a few days after the restaurant had reopened following the coronavirus lockdown.
But, among several other food hygiene breaches, the court heard there were rat droppings found throughout the back end of the premises.
Also found in the fridge was mouldy baby corn.
Prosecuting on behalf of the council at Chester Magistrates Court on Monday, August 23, Ian Moore said upon the discovery of all the failings, customers who were dining in the restaurant were told to leave immediately and the restaurant was shut with immediate effect until it had been thoroughly cleaned.
The owner of the premises, Mahindra Bhimji Gohil, 68, appeared in court and pleaded guilty to a total of 10 food hygiene breaches, being fined £180 for each one.
Mr Moore said Gohil had been aware of the rat infestation but had tried to sort it domestically, without calling pest control.
It was on October 28, 2020, at 6.45pm when the food hygiene team visited as part of a routine inspection.
One of the team opened a juicing machine at the venue and, Mr Moore said: “A cloud of fruit flies flew out, into the face of the officer.”
An album of photos was collected and presented to District Judge Nicholas Sanders, who described the scenes as “stomach churning”.
Among them were pictures of a greasy fryer, mouldy baby corn in the fridge, food debris and rat droppings on the floor and gnaw markings made by rats at the bottom of the door in between the kitchen and the rear room.
There was also a blackened chopping board in the rear room and a rat trap, which was not set, under the sink in the back room.
Inspection officers noted the walls and surfaces were dirty, hand washing basins were not equipped with hygienic drying facilities and food was unfit for human consumption due to the mouldy baby corn.
There was also open food waste in the rear yard area, while the toilet had an open window which led directly to an area where food was handled.
When interviewed, Gohil said he had been monitoring the rat infestation, and the gnaw marks had been there “a long time”, but he had not informed pest control of the situation.
The restaurant was closed amid concerns customers could experience salmonella, listeria and/or diarrhoea.
Following the closure, the restaurant was reopened on November 6 and had since been inspected and given a four out of five rating by the food hygiene team, with the officer noting substantial improvements had been made. There were minor issues of hygiene and cleanliness which could still be improved.
Gohil had one previous, spent conviction for a dissimilar matter.
Defending, Caroline Wynne said this offence had partly come about as a result of the Covid restrictions.
The premises had opened in 2017 and was fully up and running the following year, getting a five out of five rating for food safety that year, then four out of five in 2019.
But then lockdown hit and Gohil did not want to reopen during the summer months, and he felt pressured by October to reopen the business so as not to lose out financially.
Neighbouring grocery stores had deposited waste bags at the back of the site, and that was believed to be the source of the rat infestation, which Gohil had tried to deal with himself.
Gohil had suffered the effects of Covid-19 himself during the pandemic.
He said in retrospect, he should not have reopened the restaurant at that time.
Prior to opening Chai Station, Gohil had worked for 36 years at a newsagent in Hoole, and Chai Station was designed to be a business which would top up his retirement income, as somewhere he could enjoy working as a part-time operation.
Having worked hard to reopen the restaurant last November, it was then forced to close again due to Covid lockdown restrictions. Having reopened since, he had worked with the food hygiene team to ensure the premises was clean enough to obtain the four out of five rating.
He was determined to work hard and make the business a success, the court heard.
Sentencing, DJ Sanders said: “I give you full credit for your guilty plea, but the pictures I have seen of the restaurant you were operating are, bluntly, stomach churning, they were revolting. I am not surprised they shut it down there and then.
“That is quite unusual, but they were quite right in doing so. Rat droppings, flies, filthy conditions – these do not happen overnight.
“You clearly made efforts you needed and now have a reasonable food rating, although there is still room for improvement, but getting there, and you should certainly strive to improve even further.”
As well as the £1,800 fine for the 10 breaches, Gohil must pay £1,080 costs to Cheshire West and Chester Council, plus a £190 surcharge.
The Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Environment, Highways and Strategic Transport, Councillor Karen Shore said: “Officers within our Regulatory Services team work proactively to help business owners comply with legislation and meet hygiene standards and food safety.”
“The vast majority of food establishments in Cheshire West operate to a high standard; we have a duty to the public to take effective action where others do not make the same effort.
“In this case, officers had repeatedly witnessed extremely poor conditions that posed a significant risk to the public and the fine imposed sends a clear and strong message that the courts will treat such situations seriously”.
Cheshire West and Chester Council operate a paid for advisory service for all food businesses called the ‘GET5’ scheme. Call 01244 973486 for more information visit: https://www.cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk/business/business-hub/Food-businesses.aspx