SOUTH SHORE — Ashanti Johnson was enjoying a meal last week at Banana Leaf — a South Side Jamaican restaurant she'd eaten at several times — when she spotted what she said appeared to be a dead cockroach in her food.
“Three minutes into the meal I was about to go for the cabbage and I noticed something black wrapped in the cabbage,” she said. “I’m flicking it with the fork and I immediately spit out everything I was chewing.”
Johnson shared pictures of the encounter on Facebook — a post that has since been shared 2,600 times.
"Never again," she wrote. "I'm so disgusted."
The restaurant acknowledges it gave her a refund — and said cabbage and other greens can sometimes get bugs in them. The manager, though, doubted Johnson found a cockroach in her food.
Johnson works as a teacher at Chicago Lighthouse Charter School, which is not far from Banana Leaf, 1948 E. 79th St. She goes there about once a month, including on March 14, when she ordered jerk chicken, macaroni and cabbage, she said.
When she saw the insect in her cabbage, she was horrified.
“I was just in shock,” she said.
She took photos of her meal, but immediately threw the food away and left.
Ashanti Johnson posted these photos of food she said she ate at The Banana Leaf Restaurant, 1955 E. 79th St. [Facebook/Ashanti Johnson]
She went back to work, but on the urging of her sister and co-workers, called the city's 311 non-emergency line to file a complaint.
Johnson then called the restaurant and told a manager what she saw. She was asked to come back for either a new meal or a partial refund, but Johnson said she argued to get the full refund.
Restaurant manager Ricky Bailey acknowledged he offered her a refund.
“Our customers know that we take care of them if they ever get disappointed,” he said in an interview.
He said the restaurant had problems with bugs in vegetables before — but he cast doubt on whether a roach was found since he said they've had exterminators come out to the building.
“We’ve had situations where you get the lettuce and the cabbage and you have insects because it’s a vegetable,” he said. “It grows in the dirt. The company says they prewash it, but when we get it we wash it again, but we have had situations.”
Caitlin Polochak, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Public Health, said the city received a complaint about the restaurant this month, but said inspectors usually follow up within 10 days based on severity. She said this type of complaint hadn't been made before against Banana Leaf: "There were no prior complaints made regarding bugs in food served at the restaurant."
“The Banana Leaf has not been closed down for violations,” she said Friday.
City records show that Banana Leaf passed its most recent inspection last August, but the restaurant has a history of failed inspections in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Mice droppings were found in 2013 and 2015. In June of 2015, the restaurant failed after inspectors found there was inadequate rodent and roach proofing.
In 2016 the restaurant failed an inspection April 18 for violating a lighting code and for having garbage piled up along a fence near an outside grill.
The restaurant received another violation for not properly protecting its food through storage, preparation, display and transportation.
“Observed food not being protected during preparation (no tents or canopy found at this time over grill to protect from the outside elements)," city records note. "Observed jerk chicken being cooked on large grill in rear outside back yard area. All food cooked at this location must be cooked inside, no cooking allowed outside. All cooking equipment stationed in rear outside yard area must be removed by next visit. Serious violation.”
Bailey acknowledged the city's concerns in the past but said things had improved.
“Things are much better now,” he said. “If they weren't we wouldn't be here. The city wouldn't let us operate.”
But Johnson said she’s traumatized and doesn’t plan on eating there or any other place other than her home the next year.
“I don't trust anything now,” she said. “No chains or independents. You never know what’s happening back there" in the kitchen.