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Himalayan Yak Manager Awaits Chance to Clear Bad Health Grade

By Katie Honan | March 13, 2014 3:49pm
 The manager said they've worked to fix problems, and now simply wait.
Himalayan Yak Explains C Grade
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JACKSON HEIGHTS — The manager of a restaurant slapped with a 'C' grade during its last health inspection says the city hasn't been back for months to give the eatery a chance to clear its name.

Himalayan Yak, one of Jackson Height's most notable Tibetan and Nepalese restaurants, was hit with 47 violation points during its Oct. 22, 2013 inspection, according to Department of Health records.

Inspectors found food that wasn't kept to the proper temperature before cooking, live roaches were present and there was evidence of live mice, according to the inspection.

Manager Gyaltsen Gurung, 31, said those issues have been addressed.

"A lot of things go on with health inspections," he said. "A lot of inspectors have different things. Some will tell you you need this, some say you need that."

His last graded inspection was unlike any he'd ever seen, he said. The inspector even took apart his ice machine to check for cleanliness.

"I've never had an inspector like this — going through mechanics and taking apart a machine," he said. "We don't do that ourselves because it's risky."

He's been waiting for health inspectors to return so he can be given a clean bill.

"They are supposed to come back between two and three months — they never showed up," he said. "It's been almost six months."

The Department of Health is scheduled to return in approximately three to five months from their last inspection, according to a spokesman. It's the standard time when a restaurant receives a "C" grade, the spokesman said.

Gurung said he spent roughly $6,000 cleaning up issues from previous inspections, and even went to the Health Department's court to fight his grade.

He received A grades on all of his other inspections, receiving 13 points from an April 2013 inspection and only 11 from one the year before.

In November, an inspector returned and gave the restaurant only 10 points, but it's counted as an "ungraded" inspection — and the 'C' still hangs, Gurung said.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said November's inspection was a follow-up "monitoring inspection because of concern over the mice, roach and fly issues found during their graded inspection."

Points are tallied but restaurants are not graded, he said. 

Gurung said he's constantly working to fight the many factors that cause his restaurant to tack on points during inspections.

"We do have a problem with pests, but it doesn't have anything to do with food contamination," he said.

"We're right next to a subway, which is very dirty. The rats find a way to come in through the foundation."

Himalayan Yak, which opened on Roosevelt Avenue in 2004, is one of the most popular restaurants serving up food from the Himalayas in Jackson Heights, and has received high marks from Zagat and a recommendation in the Michelin Guide.

But even with a loyal base of customers, Gurung suspects business has suffered from the grade.

"I'm receiving calls once a week from customers asking what grade we have," he said. "I give them the complete explanation."

Gurung's frustration is common with many restaurant owners, and the issue of health inspections made headlines last week after one of the city's most expensive restaurants, Per Se, also received a "C."

"I know what they've been through," he said of the Manhattan eatery with three Michelin stars and a $310 tasting menu.

Last October, the City Council passed a bill aimed at helping businesses across the city with their health inspections, which many restaurant owners say are unfair and costly.

"For years now, many restaurant owners have felt under siege by a system that has become increasingly taxing, mounting both financial and regulatory burdens," then-Speaker Christine Quinn said at the time.

As for now, the team at Himalayan Yak waits for the chance to bump its grade back up to an A.

"We are expecting them to come back. We are always ready for the inspectors," he said. "Especially when you have a 'C' grade."