Public Health investigation reveals rat droppings at ‘Shitty Eats’


James Chan

Mar 14, 2019 (James Chan)

Students at a Residential Housing Association town hall meeting last month described an abusive manager and unsafe food conditions at the residential dining hall facility City Eats, and an Xpress investigation uncovered what appear to be valid reasons for those concerns.

“There’s a reason we call it ‘Shitty Eats!’” exclaimed one student at the meeting.

In addition to reports of hair in food and undercooked meat, the Department of Public Health, which conducts routine annual inspections, received a Feb. 5 complaint that a diner became ill after eating at City Eats. This prompted an investigation two days later that found the presence of rodents and improper food storage and preparation. To add insult to injury, diners allege that a man they described as white and short in stature regularly verbally
attacks his subordinates at the establishment.

“There’s this one specific dude that yells at his employees and it really pisses me off,” sociology major Drew Reems-Webley said after finishing a meal at City Eats.

Students who made the allegations confirmed the man’s identity by viewing a photo taken by psychology and women and gender studies double major Kristian Morgan.

Xpress sought comment from the man identified by witnesses who wears a name tag that reads “Nicholas,” but he, his supervisor and co-workers declined to comment. City Eats Director of Student Dining Ken Allen and Executive Chef Gerard Rangel also declined to comment.

“I feel it’s racially charged because he’s a white guy and everyone else is of Asian descent or something else,” Reems-Webley said.

City Eats Resident District Manager HeeBong Hyun declined to identify the employee by name, though she said based on the physical description that she knew who the employee in question was.

Information on most employees at SF State can be found online at Transparent California, a site that discloses the pay and pensions of state employees. But people who work in the residential dining hall are employees of the private contractor Sodexo, a company the University first partnered with in 2015, and their identities are not readily available.

Hyun declined to provide any specific information on “Nicholas” and ejected an Xpress reporter from the dining hall during the course of the investigation into the alleged bullying behavior.

Hyun said the matter is between her and Sodexo’s Human Resources Department, though she noted that the City Eats team has “huddle meetings” every Wednesday, where she addresses diversity and inclusion in the workplace. She said it’s in this group setting that she gives employees the
chance to speak out about any issues they are facing. Marco Gonzales primarily works at another on-campus eatery, Bricks, but he spends about one day a week helping at City Eats.

Despite student reports, Gonzales described the work environment as friendly and said he likes the job because it gives him a chance to be active
in a group setting.

International relations major Jorge Ruiz reported witnessing “Nicholas” allegedly make a racist comment on one occasion in addition to the alleged abusive behavior he’s seen the manager direct at subordinates.

“I’ve heard him say, ‘The noodles are good today because [the woman who made them is] Chinese,’” Ruiz said.

Undeclared major Jiovanni Valdivia described a recent incident he found disturbing in which the man he confirmed was “Nicholas” allegedly berated an employee who spilled water on the floor.

“The guy kept reminding her that he was very disappointed in her and that she made a huge mistake,” Valdivia said. “She obviously looked uncomfortable.”

Morgan said he’s witnessed similar behavior and finds it equally unsettling.

“The way he talks to them and the mannerisms he addresses them in makes City Eats a really uncomfortable place to eat,” he said. “I’ve heard him ask other employees if the dishes are going to wash themselves.”

‘Old rat droppings’

The employee environment isn’t the only toxic aspect of City Eats, according to technical writing and marketing major Kelly Scheurer.  She said said she got sick from eating there last year.

All campus residents, excepting those in UPN and UPS, are mandated to purchase a meal plan for the restaurant, which Scheurer and many other diners call “Shitty Eats.”

“It wasn’t uncommon at the time that I lived in Towers to find hair in my food or get sick from undercooked meat,” Scheurer said.

Official DOPH records show that on Feb. 7 health inspectors investigated a complaint from a mother who said her daughter got sick eating at City Eats. The DOPH then conducted an inspection and found three health code violations that Hyun initially omitted when talking with Xpress.

“We passed [the inspection] with great scores” Hyun said. “The inspector repeatedly said to me personally and to my management team how clean and sanitized our facility looked.”

But DOPH records contradicted Hyun’s initial statement.

“Observed old rat droppings beneath the fryer on the cook’s line behind the food service area,” the inspector reported.

They also found beef held at 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit, well below the 135-degree standard. The meat was then reheated and put in a holding container.

According to the USDA, holding food at temperatures below the health department’s specified range can lead to rapid bacteria growth and foodborne illness.

City Eats was also found guilty of a third violation. The inspector documented “unclean or degraded walls or ceilings” and noted areas of built-up grease, especially under the deep fryer.

Theater major Megan Jameson said her experiences with City Eats this year have been positive overall, but her one complaint is that the chicken in the stir fry is sometimes undercooked.

“I’ve been eating it sometimes and it’s been pink on the inside,” she said. “It’s like, ‘OK, I’ll go get something else,’ [but it] really sucks. I don’t like when meat isn’t cooked.”

An inspector for the DOPH observed a similar issue last August when they measured chicken temperatures at 28 degrees Fahrenheit below what safety requirements dictate. This was marked as a high-risk violation, and the inspector also marked the dining hall down for lack of employee food safety knowledge.

“They need to change gloves every time they go in between meat and vegetables,” Scheurer said. “They never do.”

The Sodexo corporation is notorious for health code violations in universities across the country, according to Corporate Research Project findings. Reports from the the Allegheny County Health Department documented 46 safety violations last year at a University of Pittsburgh dining facility run by Sodexo. The Pittsburgh Sodexo facility, called Market Central, notched 18 violations during two of six 2018 inspections.

Hyun said she and the other City Eats managers conduct daily walkthroughs and document any problematic findings.

“We’re finding opportunities to correct, to teach and to improve our conditions and environment,” Hyun said.

Failure to rectify the problems documented by the DOPH could have resulted in citations or fines for the dining hall, but in a Feb. 15
follow-up inspection City Eats was found to have cleaned up its act.

Hyun said it was “routine practice” to make corrections after an initial inspection.

As for correcting any potentially negative employee behavior, Hyun said she would need to further investigate.  She said she takes feedback seriously and encouraged students to contact her if they have negative experiences.

“If there are opportunities to sensitize our employees regarding anything that may have been negatively perceived by the guests, then I would have a general conversation about the impact versus the intent [of their actions],” Hyun said.  “[And] about how feedback can be perceived or construed not in a positive light.”

Students can provide feedback about their experiences at City Eats using comment cards at the dining hall or via the City Eats website.  The dining hall conducts biannual resident surveys and Hyun said she received more than 800 student responses last fall.

“One of the areas we consistently do really well is the friendliness of our staff and cleanliness of our facility,” Hyun said.