Okhee McGrath said she managed two local restaurants for 20 years and never had a failing health inspection score, until one day this August when bad luck hit.
A state health inspector showed up unannounced on the same day the walk-in cooler's refrigeration unit broke down at the Imperial Chinese Restaurant at 702 E. North St.
Both McGrath and her head cook had the day off, and the backup staff didn't realize there was a problem, until the inspector tested food temperatures and found items including rice and raw chicken weren't as cold as they were supposed to be.
That led to two of the four critical violations the restaurant received that day, which combined with some smaller violations led to a final score of 76, four points below the minimum score of 80 it takes to pass.
McGrath was not happy when she found out that her record of passing scores was broken.
"They got a lesson," she said, of how she told her kitchen staff about the changes they would have to make.
"I was mad when we got a 76. I was yelling."
The Imperial and the Rodeway Inn restaurant, 2208 Mount Rushmore Road, were the only Rapid City restaurants that failed their most recent routine, unannounced health inspections, according to information provided to the Journal on Oct. 26 from the South Dakota Department of Health.
Several others barely passed with a scores in the low 80s.
With health inspection information not easily accessible in South Dakota compared to other states, the dining public has been largely unaware of whether local restaurants are passing or failing their inspections, and if they are failing, whether they have since fixed the problems, which the Imperial says it has.
By the end of the year, the state will put into place a new computerized system that will make restaurant inspection results immediately available online for all to see.
McGrath said she hopes news of the August failure doesn't keep customers away. It's hard enough bringing in business, she said, with heavy construction on East North Street and competition from several new restaurants in town.
She said the Imperial scored a passing 87 on a follow-up inspection in October. Notes from the inspector show three of the four critical violations were fixed on the spot. The fourth - two live cockroaches found in the kitchen - would be fixed "ASAP," the inspector noted, and McGrath said the problem is resolved.
"We spray every two weeks," she said. "It's under control now."
McGrath said it has been difficult to keep her staff always following proper procedures, a concern other restaurateurs share.
Keith Fox owns the Rodeway Inn, which got a failing score of 79 when it was visited by an inspector Sept. 12. Unlike Imperial, which had four "critical" violations, Rodeway had two critical violations but many more smaller violations.
Rodeway lost points for critical violations of cross-contamination of raw and cooked meats and for unmarked chemical products, and for non-critical issues including unlabeled bulk sugar bins, uncovered chips on the bar, a meat slicer not cleaned routinely, dirty shelves and racks in the kitchen, buildup on grease filters, having paper goods containers set directly on the floor, weeds around the outdoor trash bin, no cover on the employee bathroom toilet, and dirty floors in the kitchen.
Fox blamed a lack of reliable staff.
"This was quite unusual for us to get this" score, he said. "We have had a lot of turnover in help. We were not catching up. I've fired more people in this last year than I have since 1969 when I started. There's no work ethic at all."
The inspector noted that both critical violations were resolved on the spot. Fox said all the issues have now been cleaned up and "Right now, we're in good shape."
Contact Barbara Soderlin at 394-8417 or