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A Grand Ledge restaurant seems to be permanently closed following widespread — and largely unfounded — rumors of unsanitary conditions inside. And a viral social media post may have shouldered some of the blame.
City Buffet, at 886 E. Saginaw Highway, was locked during regular business hours earlier this month. The phone line is disconnected. No signs were posted out front.
Its website doesn’t offer an explanation.
But some said a viral Facebook post that accused owners of serving insect-infested dumplings might have triggered the closure.
A Facebook user named Jolene “Joey Marie” Browning took to the Internet in May after she claimed to have served herself “steamed wontons and a side of maggots” from the Chinese buffet. A picture of her plate has since ignited a community debate, garnering nearly 1,000 shares and more than 400 comments in recent months.
Spurred by the online complaints, officials at the Barry-Eaton District Health Department arrived the next day to investigate. Environmental health sanitarian Amy Sharrow said the claim, as far as she could tell, was unfounded. No bugs were on the buffet, and the manager explained that the “maggots” were simply fried rice.
The picture itself doesn’t offer a clear verdict. The tubular objects on Browning’s plate certainly don’t appear to be maggots, but they don’t look much like fried rice either. Some have suggested they could be Chinese variety of artichoke.
Dozens more have offered their own speculation in the comments below the post.
But the blow to the business’ reputation may have already been done. Rumors spread quickly in Grand Ledge.
Sharrow suggested City Buffet’s subsequent closure was unrelated to the post but couldn’t offer an alternative theory. The owner listed in state licensing records, Mei Quan Jiang, couldn’t be reached to provide further clarification. Sharrow’s colleague down the hall, however, claimed to have already solved the mystery.
In a Facebook post, Dawn Yost, a health department secretary, wrote about a recent visit to the restaurant the day before it closed. Jiang, in broken English, explained how business had slowed as online rumors spread, Yost wrote. The continued criticism left them with “no choice” but to close up shop.
“This hurts my heart,” Yost wrote. “They have treated us so well over the years.”
Browning offered an apology this week to the owners but doubled down on her unfounded accusations.
“If it’s true that they lost their restaurant, then I’d like to extend my sincere apologies to the family but people saying it was entirely my fault is just ridiculous,” she explained. “I wasn’t even close to the only complaint made against them. My complaint just happened to go ‘viral’ and was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Health department records indicate City Buffet earlier this year was cited for storing raw meats near their prepared foods. A soap dispenser was once absent from the employee restroom, according to another report.
Other minor infractions dot an otherwise clean record, and each violation was quickly alleviated, reports state.
Residents might never know the full story behind the restaurant’s closure but after at least eight years in business, City Buffet’s absence certainly won’t go unnoticed.
Yost declined to be interviewed for this story.
“It’s too late,” Yost added. “But the idea of a story about the power of social media is a good idea.”