Internet photo sends Florence restaurant's rep to the trash
Dec 21, 2012 (Florence Morning News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
FLORENCE, S.C. -- A local restaurant wants its reputation back after an out-of-context photo and an Internet attack left it in tatters.
An employee who was terminated after eight months on the job at the Golden Crown restaurant at 300 Whitman Ave., near Five Points, took a photo of restaurant owner Chung Ting Ni washing a pan in the kitchen, but posted it on the Internet with a caption that said he was "taking food out of the trash can then rinsing it off" to be reused. While the photo was not directly posted on the Facebook page of Shauna Jones, the ex-employee, the Chungs do recall her taking the photo sometime before she was dismissed. She still has a recent posting about it on her Facebook page.
The photo is posted on Myrtle Beach-based news aggregating site Neffworking.com and was mass emailed to people and news outlets (including the Morning News) on Dec. 4.
Golden Crown manager Morgan Owens says the false information has defamed the 24-year-old, family owned Chinese food restaurant. She said business is of roughly 80 percent since the photo went viral.
"He [Chung Ting Ni] is not doing anything [in the photo]," said Owens. "He's not taking food out of the trash. He's cleaning out a pan. Anyone that's worked in a restaurant can see that."
Owens said the Chungs and the staff at the restaurant aren't taking the matter lightly. They're staying open, and they're pursuing legal action.
"We're open for business," said Owens. "We're not closing our doors and we haven't, and we're going to continue doing business as we have for the past 25 years."
Owens said an attorney for the family has sent cease and desist letters to both Jones and Neffworking, demanding the material be removed from Facebook and Neffworking.com. The letters were sent late last week.
Jones and the website had until Dec. 19 to take down the posts, but as of Thursday, neither have taken the posts down nor responded to the letter from FitzLee H. McEachin, the restaurant's attorney. Owens says they aren't looking for monetary compensation. They just want their reputation back. She said the family is willing to go to court to get it.
"This has been devastating," Owens said. "This is their [owner's family] life, this is what they do. They eat, sleep and breathe this. They've put everything they have into this business, and one person retaliating because she was let go from her job has been devastating for him (Chung Ting Ni). He's stressed to the gills."
Owens, a longtime manager at the Golden Crown, spoke to the Morning News on behalf of Chung because Chung does not have a good command of English.
Owens said she let Jones go in late November.
Days later, a customer brought the photo to the restaurant's attention and from there it went viral, resulting in frustrated customers, some swearing at Owens over the phone for allegedly deceiving them, and some showing sympathy once they heard the rest of the story.
Unfortunately, said Owens, many have yet to come back through the restaurant's doors.
Jones did not return phone calls from the Morning News. Posts to what appear to be her Facebook page from Dec. 4 confirm that the photo is hers. She said in the post that she never said anything about trashed food being reused, but said that leftover food was picked through "with there [sic] bare hands...then they RINSE it ALL OFF and put it in the walk-in cooler to use for the NEXT morning!!!!!" OHHHH and BTW this is just scratching the surface of the nasty and illegal things they do there!!!!!!!"
Jones later commented on the post, saying, "They fired me the day before Thanksgiving because I told them I was reporting them to DEHC [sic] and The Labor Board!!!"
Owens and Chung vehemently deny the charges and have a S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control report from last week that invalidates Jones' claim. The Chungs allowed the Morning News to view the report.
During an inspection on Dec. 12, 2012, resulting from a complaint related to the photo, DHEC inspector Ronnie Herring scored the restaurant 92 out of 100. That's an 'A' rating. The restaurant had violations for improper storage preparation, display, thawing of food (two points deducted), a violation for possible cross contamination in terms of protected prepared food (five points) and nonfood contact surfaces designed, constructed, maintained and installed (one point).
A subsequent inspection on Dec. 14 found that these conditions were remediated, and the restaurant's score was a 100.
DHEC Freedom of Information director Karla Mew said that the restaurant has had two complaints against it in the past two years that were invalidated upon inspection.
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