West Olympia eatery checked weekly for health violations

OLYMPIA - Thurston County health officials are inspecting Black Bear Diner on Olympia's west side every week after the restaurant received a low score in a health inspection last month.

Black Bear is one of three restaurants countywide to receive a compliance rating of between 70 percent and 80 percent this year, ranking as one of the lowest scores of 2009, according to Thurston County Public Health & Social Services data. The other restaurants also are on Olympia’s west side: Hot Iron Mongolian Grill on Cooper Point Road and the Olympia Thai Cuisine & Pho on Division Street, said Sammy Berg, a senior environmental health specialist for the county. During subsequent inspections, the compliance ratings for both those restaurants rose to the 90 percent to 100 percent range, a designation that most county restaurants achieved this year, he said.

The data show that of 1,076 restaurants in the county that received routine inspections, 1,041 restaurants were awarded a compliance rating of 90 percent or higher. Thirty-five scores were below 90 percent. Past problems noted at Hot Iron and Olympia Thai Cuisine & Pho included not washing hands appropriately, not cleaning surfaces that had raw meat on them and bare-handed contact, Berg said.

Black Bear Diner, like the other restaurants, has taken steps to address the low score it received during a routine inspection Nov. 10, Berg said.

“We are happy with the progress they are making,” he said.

The inspection for Black Bear Diner, at 955 Black Lake Blvd., was published in The Olympian and noted the following:

 • Cook did not wash hands during entire visit

 • Strong evidence of rodents with significant amount of droppings in the kitchen not being cleaned

 • Food in the back kitchen exposed to loose ceiling insulation that is working its way through ceiling tiles

Restaurants receive two routine inspections a year, but Berg added that the health department received a complaint about Black Bear from a customer who had spotted rodents in the restaurant. Berg later identified them as rats.

After the inspection, the health department was poised to close the restaurant. However, the operator voluntarily closed it for four days last month to address the problems, including some equipment failure, Berg said. By Nov. 14, the restaurant had fixed its immediate problems, and Olympia franchise owner Tim Augustine met with county health department staff members Nov. 16, Berg said.

“During the days it was closed, they worked hard to clean it top to bottom, fix the refrigeration and do some training,” he said.

The restaurant also has been subject to weekly inspections that likely will continue through January to address some longer-term issues, such as effective pest control, Berg said.

“They changed (pest-control) vendors and it appears to be succeeding for them, but it wasn’t done well in the past,” he said. The restaurant was not inspected this week because of the holidays, but inspections are expected to resume next week, he said.

Augustine, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, said in a telephone interview this week that he has been involved in the restaurant business for more than 25 years and was “extremely” embarrassed by the situation.

“We took the inspection as seriously as we should have, implemented all repairs and continue to the monitor the site extremely closely,” he said. He also said he has made the “appropriate personnel changes.”

“We acknowledge our responsibility to do things properly,” Augustine added. “We love Olympia, and it’s a great community to be in.”

Black Bear Diner is a Mount Shasta, Calif.-based chain of restaurants operating mostly in California and Oregon. The Black Bear Diner here, described by Augustine as a family-style coffee shop, opened in February 2007, making it the first such location in Washington. Before Black Bear opened, the building had been vacant for two years after Coco’s Bakery & Restaurant left the area in January 2005.

Lunchtime diners leaving the restaurant on Christmas Eve said the restaurant was clean.

Jim Brannon of Olympia took issue with the service he got Thursday but he acknowledged the restaurant’s cleanliness. John Quach of Olympia, too, said the restaurant seemed clean. He also said the service and food was fine.

“I hope we can prove to the community that we are a great place to visit,” Augustine added.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403