County health inspectors temporarily shut down an Indian restaurant in downtown Mountain View three times in the last three years after finding pests in the kitchen and in its ingredients, according to inspection records.
The string of closures, the most recent in February, sets Biryaniz apart from most downtown restaurants where temporary health-related shutdowns are a rarity. It also received one of the region's lowest health scores, 44 out of 100, by Santa Clara County's Department of Environmental Health prior to the closures.
The management at Biryaniz said the problems have been fixed and customers should feel confident eating at the restaurant and supporting the business during troubled times. It's a constant battle to keep rats out of the building, said Stanley George, the manager of Biryaniz, and they are constantly vigilant to look for any holes or scratches.
"We are doing our best to stop it and we have succeeded so far, but sometimes one-off cases happen," George said.
Biryaniz has been around since 2017, and previously operated under the name Shalimar Sizzle. The Indian restaurant specializes in biryani, a traditional rice dish served with meat, spices and other toppings.
The prior restaurant had fairly routine health code violations -- like a soap dispenser not working -- though at one point the ownership failed to pay its permit fees and appeared closed during one of the health inspections. Over the course of 2018, Biryaniz' health score tumbled from 68, which was already among the lowest on Castro Street, down to 44, with health inspectors noting poorly heated food and unsanitized dishes.
In a follow-up inspection, health officials observed an employee take out the trash, come back into the restaurant and use his bare hands to scoop out and eat rice from one of the containers without washing his hands.
The first closure hit the restaurant in July 2019, when a food inspector found a cockroach in an open bucket of ghee and seven live cockroaches "in varying stages of growth" under the sink, in the storage room and around the dough mixer. The closure was sustained for a second day after eight live cockroaches as well as dead cockroaches were found.
In September 2020, the restaurant was hit with another closure when health inspectors found rodent droppings in the flour and in the storage area, both on top of and inside food containers. The inspection also found employees were not wearing face coverings at the restaurant, which is a violation of COVID-19 health orders. Biryaniz was deemed fit to reopen the next day after no evidence of vermin was found.
The latest troubles were in February, when a county health inspection revealed a twofold infestation. The rodent droppings were back, this time on the counter, on food containers, on the floor around the mixer and in the dry storage area of the restaurant. Cockroaches were also found, both alive and dead, on the cutting board and under the sink. Again, employees were found not wearing masks.
Two subsequent inspections in late February did not result in a closure, but discovered live and dead cockroaches on a kitchen prep unit, on the floor and snared on sticky traps.
The cockroach problem had been overlooked by hired pest control services, George said, but he insisted the problem has since been resolved. But he said he was less confident about the rats, which have multiple ways to get inside the building and cannot be stopped with 100 percent confidence. He insisted that it's an unending struggle, in part due to the aging building where rodents can dig a hole through hollow surfaces into the kitchen in less than 45 minutes.
"We have a rat issue that's prevalent in this particular downtown area, so we are doing our best," he said. "We had a pest control agency that was working on this."
Records show that other restaurants on the block do not appear to have any closures due to rodents going back to 2019, however, and one business sharing the same building -- sushi restaurant Kappo Nami Nami -- has not been cited for rodent or cockroach infestation.
Larry Little, a representative of the county's department of environmental health, said in a statement that its trained inspectors are tasked with rooting out health violations while also giving businesses an opportunity to quickly make corrections. For the most part, he said, restaurants are willing to do whatever it takes to come into compliance.
That said, he encouraged customers to use the county's webpage and phone app to monitor how restaurants performed on recent health inspections. Little described it as an "extraordinary transparent resource" for diners to check in on a restaurant's overall score -- ranging from 0 to a perfect 100 -- and dig into the more granular details of the inspections as well.
George said Biryaniz is expecting another routine inspection in late June, and he said he is confident the new score will reflect the restaurant's improvements and careful measures to fend off rodents.