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Restaurants Exposed: Closed and broke, Golden Ponds to hold auction

September 15, 2017 08:31 PM

On Tuesday, September 19, the owner of the Greece restaurant, Golden Ponds, will sell everything at auction - from the freezer to the flatware.

The Monroe County Health Department says last year 260 people got sick after eating at his Thanksgiving Buffet. Health inspectors shut him down. When he finally reopened, patrons did not come back. Now he's facing lawsuits, deep debt, and the end of his career. On Friday, he opened his doors and ended his silence for this week's Restaurants Exposed report.

Ralph Rinaudo hasn't changed a thing since that January day when he closed the doors for good at Golden Ponds. When News10NBC toured the restaurant, tables were still set, plates were stacked, and linens covered long tables were buffets were served.

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"I left everything just the way it was, and it's tough to just take things out," said Rinaudo. "All the parties we had booked they just canceled because people were telling me that their friends or people don't want to come here because they were afraid," he admitted.

In fact, in the party room, tables are still set for a party that canceled eight months ago. Warmers await food for the buffet - an eerie reminder of the event that forced Rinaudo to close his doors. Asked if he felt guilty about the 260 people who the health department has determined were sickened at his restaurant he answered. “That's what they said, ‘They got sick here.’ I can't dispute that what they say."

But the patrons aren't the only ones saying it. So are scientists at the Monroe County Department of Health who investigate the source of foodborne illness. They say at last year's Thanksgiving buffet Golden Ponds served up turkey with a side dish of clostridium perfringens - a dangerous bacteria that inspectors say was likely in gravy held at unsafe temperatures. Two hundred and sixty people suffered serious symptoms from bloody diarrhea to cramping resulting in hospitalizations for some.

"The most difficult case we had a woman who had her colon removed and is going to spend the rest of her life with a colostomy bag," said Paul Nunes, an attorney for dozens of plaintiffs suing the restaurant.

In his lawsuits, Nunes points to the Monroe County Health Department's inspection reports which lists mold on the floor of the walk-in refrigerator, heavily rusted shelving in that same refrigerator, a walk-in freezer that didn't close tightly, mouse droppings, and a kitchen area that inspectors said was quote "in very poor sanitary condition."

"If you're sloppy in one thing, you're sloppy in another thing,” said Nunes. “It's a modus operandi. This is how they ran the restaurant."

That's an allegation Rinaudo denied during News10NBC’s tour of the now closed Golden Ponds. Everything is now for sale from the stove to the ovens still marked with the signs of heavy use. Asked if the auction would get him out of debt he said, “No, no, nothing. Selling this building wouldn't get me out of debt."

And so he's selling it all and walking away from 47-years in the restaurant business.

"It was devastating to myself and my family," said Rinaudo.

It was devastating as well, says this Nunes, for victims with lives forever changed by the lasting effects of the serious foodborne illness.

"People have a right to expect that the food they eat is safe," said Nunes. He said these cases illustrate why food handling should be taken very seriously.

We want our consumer investigations to empower you - the consumer.  If you have plans to eat out, here’s Deanna’s Do List:

1. Check the restaurants inspection record.

2. If you see a problem, report it.

Credits

Deanna Dewberry

Copyright 2017 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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