Stranger resident vegan Dave Segal reviewed Chu Minh Tofu & Veggie Deli in the International District this past November and found that the "tiny, unassuming" restaurant for the tofu company had good tofu dishes, if very little in the way of atmosphere. He also found it had a good story: Owner Thanh-Nga, aka Tanya, Nguyen left Vietnam when she was in her fourth year of medical school in Saigon, then got a biochemistry degree at the University of Washington in 2002, and started running Chu Minh in 2006 (her parents started the company in 1998).
(Dave initially went to check out Chu Minh on the recommendation of Slog commenter Anne X, who said, “ChuMinh Tofu & Veggie Deli at 12th and Jackson is a rad all-vegan Vietnamese deli that, in addition to a vegetable-heavy hot entree selection and fresh soymilk & tofu, has some delicious chili lemongrass tofu banh mi. A sweet li'l hole in-the-wall place with good food.” Comments on Dave's review were also universally supportive, like this one from Benj: "I've been going since the first week, and I've never had a bad experience... The people at ChuMinh are earnest and generous... Bonus points: they have a sign on the wall that reads, 'We care more about your spiritual well-being than making money.'" After Dave's review, Chu Minh Tofu delivered a bunch of food to The Stranger's office at lunchtime, and we all ate it and thought it was great.)
Now the Washington State Department of Agriculture has taken away Chu Minh's license "after finding repeated health violations at the company’s facility," also fining the business $17,800 in civil penalties, according to Food Safety News. FSN reports that "the company had been warned repeatedly" by both the WSDA and the FDA, and that its license has been suspended twice already, "most recently in October of 2012."
And last August, two months prior to Chu Minh's most recent previous shutdown (HOLY HELL WHY DIDN'T THEY SHUT IT DOWN RIGHT THEN AND THERE?!?!?!?):
The FDA sent a warning letter to the company following an inspection during which the agency noted 16 different types of significant violations. Investigators noticed several sanitation problems, including pigeons sitting on exposed vats of soaking soybeans outside the facility, an employee picking his nose before handling ready-to-eat tofu, rodents (live and dead) and rodent feces in the processing facility and cracks in equipment used to process foods.
FDA also noted that some soybean drinks contained an illegal color additive. Other drinks were sold with ingredient lists that omitted additives used to make the beverages. Nutrition labels were also found to contain false information.
I cannot currently find words to address the above.
Chu Minh owner Tanya Nguyen, however, has found some words—her letter to her customers is after the jump. But before that, here is what she told Dave Segal in November—one month after the business was shut down for the violations above, about four months before this Monday's shutdown:
Discussing her mission, Nguyen says: "I can help people to explore a nourishing world of the wonderful taste, texture, and beautiful color that they did not even know existed. I can help people who want to be vegetarian but they don't have time to cook. I can help people to reduce their meat in their diet and live a healthier and longer life. This is the reason that inspired me to open ChuMinh Tofu and Veggie Deli."
Tuesday March 12th, 2013
Dear Chu Minh Tofu Valued Customers,
On Friday March 8th, 2013 Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) inspected and closed Chu Minh Tofu from the continued violation of the standard food processing and not fully pay fines related to the previous violation.
We are very sorry and embarrassed. Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience that our customers may have to go through for this incident. No words can describe how truly sorry we are for the frustration, anxiety and inconvenience that we have caused you. This especially saddening because Chu Minh Tofu founded on the promise to help customers adjust their life styles and make the experience of eating healthier for our customers who choose to support us. It is displeasing to say that we are unable to deliver this promise last week.
At Chu Minh Tofu, we take pride in ensuring the satisfaction of our customers. Unfortunately, we did not meet your expectations as well as ours. After a thorough review of the situation, we have narrowed down the cause is due to poor staff training and lack of supervision, and we are solely responsible for this incident. WSDA gave us 10 days to request reconsideration. We would like to take this opportunity to ask for a second chance to serve our customers better.
To regain your trust to us, we have to make immediate corrective measures and ensure that this will never happen again by creating training courses for all employees of the company on personal hygiene, and hiring managers or Supervisors qualified to manage and monitor more closely. We have begun putting a comprehensive plan in place for the production, packaging, storage and transport in a manner of good sanitary conditions, good sanitation practices by employees, free pest to protect food products from contamination to ensure your health. While this does not mean that an excuse for what happened, knowing the cause of this unfortunate incident will help us prevent future mistakes.
We are confident, as a result of these changes; Chu Minh Tofu will emerge as a more reliable business of our customers and even meet the expectations of our customers than ever before.
We greatly appreciate the sympathy, understanding, support and your encouragement for Chu Ming Tofu and commitment that we will provide you with all kinds of tofu, soy milk, and soy pudding with the highest quality, simply because our customers deserve the best. If you have any questions or comments regarding this matter, we are ready to listen, learn and appreciate your comments, please feel free and comfortable to discuss with me at firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.facebook.com/chuminhtofu, or (206) 228-5449.