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Second life for hep A restaurant

Bronx Times

Aloha, New Hawaii Sea Restaurant.

Owners for the Westchester Square eatery behind September’s hepatitis A outbreak intend to open under a new name and management.

No opening timetable is set for the restaurant, once frequented by many diners in and around the busy retail corridor.

The doors at the Williamsbridge Road eatery will remain shuttered indefinitely, as renovation work slowly gets underway, according to Larry Hockert, the owner’s attorney.

News of it’s impending re-opening comes as health officials confirmed New Hawaii Sea exposed three other people with hep A, upping the original number of infected to nine. A total of eight patrons and one food handler suffered from the food-borne illness, commonly found in restaurants.

The health scare drove thousands of customers to Lehman High School for a free hep A vaccine shots by the city Department of Health.

The agency set up a clinic for three days, administering shots to anxious customers who ate at the Asian-fusion joint from September 7th to the 19th, the window of exposure, according to the DOH.

The outbreak soon drove lawyers to consider lawsuits against the restaurant owners, though Hockert maintainsed the first class action suit was an empty threat since no one has filed a claim.

“The first case as far as I know hasn’t been filed,” said Hockert. “It’s just not a big case.”

“The papers are prepared, I will file them at any moment,” said Steve Kaufman, the local attorney seeking punitive damages on grounds staffers could have knowingly served hep A-tainted food despite warnings from DOH.

The eatery had already left a bad taste with the DOH, which slapped New Hawaii Sea with a B letter grade early this year, citing violations that included the potential for vermin to worm its way into the kitchen area.

Cleanliness Lesson

The restaurant fell in the jurisdiction of the Westchester Square Business Improvement District, with officials seeing the New Hawaii Sea’s troubles as a teachable moment. Officials partnered with Community Board 10 for a forum on food safety on Monday, Oct. 28, with a handful of restaurateurs present.

DOH representatives de-bunked myths about hep A while doling out advice often overlooked by restaurant owners, including the importance of washing hands for over 20 seconds.

“Educate your employees to wash their hands because it can affect your business,” said DOH rep Faina Stavinsky.

Ken Kearns, district manager at CB10, suggested the DOH should invite food handlers to similar workshops.

The impact of the hep A scaret hasn’t deterred businesses in Westchester Square.

“There’s absolutely no indication that anything of a negative, commerce-type situation has happened on Westchester Square because of the closing of one restaurant,” said John Bonizio, chairman of the BID. “I challenge anyone to come up with stuff.”

Bonizio, owner of Metro Optics, blasted a report that linked New Hawaii Sea’s mishap to the drop in business at a deli and pizzeria.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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