Sushi King reopens for lunch; closes again

BENTONVILLE — Sushi King’s lunch opening was short-lived Thursday because the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services realized two employees had not been cleared to return to work.

The two workers had tested negative once — but the department requires two negative stool samples. The second sample is being tested at a Little Rock lab.

The restaurant — at 2501 S. E. 14 th St. — closed in mid-February after dozens of people reported food poisoning.

When the restaurant opened for lunch Thursday, longtime customers showed up en masse.

Owners John Wei and his wife, Catherine, appreciated that the lunchtime rush was busier than expected. "A lot of friends came by," John Wei said. Approximately 60 customers ate lunch Thursday, which is still about half a normal lunchtime crowd.

After the lunch hour, Sushi King voluntarily closed again. "We had specific guidelines that we had worked on with Sushi King to implement prior to them reopening," said Ann Wright in the Health Department’s Little Rock communication office. "One of those guidelines was that we would do a final inspection of the restaurant to make sure everything was in order before he reopened."

The final inspection was set for Thursday, Wright said, so the owners reopened the restaurant.

When an inspector arrived, he found two workers in the kitchen that had not been fully cleared. "(Wei) voluntarily closed again," Wright said. "We will continue working with him when those specimens are back."

Wright does not have a definite date that the lab results will be available, but she said the first tests were clean.

The restaurant has been under investigation since Feb. 13 because of a salmonella outbreak.

After extensive testing, the Health Department did not find any salmonella bacteria at Sushi King; however, because salmonella has an incubation period of 12 to 36 hours before symptoms show, infected food was probably gone by the time inspectors arrived.

The department extensively tested all food products, as well as employees at the facility. "We do know we have an outbreak," Wright said. The number of reported illnesses has risen to 152 people. Of those, 52 people had laboratory cultures containing salmonella, Wright said. "The common element in all of this is a food item from Sushi King," Wright said. "The Sushi King restaurant owner has been very cooperative. We want to stress that." "They (are) waiting for one more result," Wei said, after he voluntarily closed the restaurant a second time Thursday afternoon. "I thought we had the final inspection. Apparently, it wasn’t."

On Thursday, Wei said he plans to continue cooperating fully with the Health Department. "That’s why I close (the restaurant), because that’s what they want."