PORT RICHEY — Golden Corral, a popular restaurant and meeting spot for civic groups that closed quietly last month, is set to reopen.
The restaurant on U.S. 19 was a franchise held by Guillermo Perales, one of the country's top franchise restaurant operators. In addition to operating 34 Golden Corrals in six states, he operated Burger Kings and Popeye's locations.
But a falling out between Perales and the Golden Corral corporation last year led to the North Carolina parent company suing Perales. He filed for bankruptcy protection for four of his five holding companies, which contributed to the eventual closing of the Pasco County restaurant.
Golden Corral executives said last week they plan to reopen the restaurant as a corporate-run store but did not give a date.
Efforts to reach Perales and his Dallas-based company were unsuccessful. Attorney Jamie Sasson, who represented the franchise, called Sunny Corral, when it filed for Chapter 11 last year, said he was not aware the restaurant had closed.
The Port Richey restaurant was the target of a lawsuit filed by a former employee who said co-workers sexually harassed him. The employee, Calvin Young, won an $85,000 verdict against the restaurant in the summer of 2009.
The restaurant also frequently ran afoul of state health rules. Records from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation show numerous inspection violations, including a rat problem.
On April 29, inspectors shut the restaurant down until inspection standards were met. They cited 37 violations.
"Critical. Observed rodent activity as evidenced by rodent droppings found," the inspection report said. "Fresh droppings mixed with dry droppings, too many to count. Droppings were noted out front under all buffets, and on floors in front of buffets, also on dry food storeroom boxes of food, all throughout kitchen at baseboards, also on kitchen equipment."
The restaurant opened the next day. It met inspection standards.
By May 6, another inspection turned up more rat droppings.
On May 18, inspectors noted "one live rat observed on glue board under can rack" as well as maggots on the ground near the dumpster. They found the same rat a day later.
On May 25, they found a dead rat on top of the dumpster.
A day later, the rat was gone, but inspectors noted open garbage cans "not protected from insects and rodents."
By July 7, the restaurant met inspection standards. But by Aug. 3, inspectors cited more rat problems.
The report noted "two fresh, moist rodent droppings under 'Pie Shoppe' serving station buffet line" and a dropping on top of a warming box near a hot line serving area leading to the back kitchen.
Inspectors gave employees a day to correct the problems. On Aug. 4, they gave the restaurant a passing grade.
Despite the violations, Golden Corral was always a popular place to dine out.
It regularly hosted the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfasts for about 10 years.
"We had no complaints about the food or the service," said Joe Alpine, the chamber's executive director. "They had full breakfasts, hash browns, pancakes, fruit juice."
However, he said the restaurant had to cancel the breakfasts "a couple of times for whatever reason."
When that happened, Alpine said, the group started to look elsewhere. It now meets at IHOP north of State Road 52 and U.S. 19.
"I'd still be there if it wasn't for that couple of times," Alpine said.