Restaurant News & Reviews

Sacramento County just permanently shut down a restaurant for the first time in 25 years

After two years of alleged pest infestations, improper drainage and other offenses, Sacramento County officials took the rare step of permanently shutting down a taco stand just outside city limits on Tuesday night.

When the county board of supervisors rejected North Border Taco owner Damian Avalos’ appeal of his permit revocation on Tuesday night, it marked the first time the local government body shut down a restaurant in at least 25 years, according to county environmental management department spokeswoman Brenda Bongiorno.

Eight of North Border Taco’s 12 inspections between June 2017 and March 2019 turned up cockroach infestations, according to the department of environmental health report presented to the board of supervisors.

Though only one of those infestations was bad enough to force the restaurant’s temporary closure, North Border Taco was also shut down for lacking consistent running water due to a broken pipe and having black wastewater pool up from the floor drain on separate occasions.

The taco stand at 3721 47th Ave. in south Sacramento was also dinged multiple times over the 12 inspections for minor violations such as missing food safety/handling certifications, shoddy hand washing facilities, and not storing food at appropriately cold temperatures.

North Border Taco’s operating license was first revoked on May 10, and Avalos initially appealed to Kimberly Buchholz of California Hearing Officers LLP, who rejected his appeal and recommended the board of supervisors do the same.

“North Border has a demonstrated practice of not complying with the applicable codes. By flaunting the law, North Border has put the public’s safety at risk,” Buchholz’s report read. “Furthermore, the fact that since opening in 2017 North Border has cut corners and ignored the law at the public’s peril is troubling.”

But North Border Taco isn’t the first Sacramento County restaurant to fail multiple inspections over the last 25 years, and no others have been permanently shut down by the county’s hand. What appeared to irk the powers-at-be was Avalos’ disregard for the environmental management department’s due process.

After a failed inspection on Dec. 28, 2018, Avalos pulled the health department’s red “closed” placard from the window of the stand. It was winter, the stand hadn’t been open to customers for weeks and he didn’t need that bad advertising, he said.

He claims North Border Taco didn’t serve any customers between the closure and Jan. 23, 2019, when a health inspector drove by again to find the placard down and a handwritten note saying the taco stand would reopen the following day taped to the window. The sign was up every day during the closure, Avalos said, but the restaurant didn’t actually reopen until passing its next county inspection in March.

That examination, however, was prompted when an inspector drove by again to find Avalos and employees inside the restaurant — she says they were preparing meals, he says they were washing dishes and storing food. Either way, it was a violation of the temporary closure that Avalos later called, “my mistake.”

Avalos could have possibly negotiated his way out of the shutdown by attending a compliance conference with the environmental management department, but thought the $402 fee required to do so was unfair and declined, he said. Buchholz later used that decision as evidence that “North Border still does not have enough money to safely operate,” she wrote.

Avalos said he would continue to run North Border Taco’s four food trucks; however, Bongiorno said Avalos has not had a current permit to operate the trucks since 2017.

“When Sacramento County EMD has found the food trucks operating illegally, EMD has shut them down,” she said in an email to The Bee on Friday.

Avalos also said he plans to apply for another restaurant permit in the near future, he said. In the meantime, the “pass” placard for North Border Taco stand’s most recent inspection remains taped to the window.

“If there was ever an infestation of roaches, I fixed the problem. I got the green placard to prove it. I got a green placard, and yet I got shut down by the county,” Avalos said. “It was over $402, I’m aware of that.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Saturday with the permit status of the company’s food trucks. In a previous version of this story, Avalos said he was operating the trucks with a permit.

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Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A Sacramento native, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.