The owner of Kaunakakai's iconic Kanemitsu Bakery - makers of the famed "Molokai bread" for the past 75 years - says he may be forced to shut down his family's business following another failed health inspection Wednesday.
State Department of Health officials in June had ordered the bakery to suspend operations for the second time in four months due to unsanitary conditions and had levied a $90,000 fine in March for "serious deficiencies in maintenance and manufacturing practices."
"Right now, I'm very upset. You get the feeling like you do the best you can and fix the violations, and it's not good enough," said George Kanemitsu. "I definitely feel that the Department of Health wants to close me down - no ifs, ands, or buts about it."
Kanemitsu estimates he's lost about $100,000 in revenue during the three-month closure. He said he was forced to lay off nine employees.
Kanemitsu said he believes that inspectors are going out of their way to find additional minor violations with each visit.
"Every time I do something, they come up with something new," he said. "I don't want special privileges, I just want them to treat me fair. They're playing games with me. The community knows I'm trying my best."
He said he's frustrated to the point of considering closing up shop, but added that he could reopen, possibly on Oahu.
"I just want to regroup my thinking. Before I do anything else, I want everything on paper from the Department of Health spelling everything out," he said. "If they're not going to give me that, I'll probably close down and look for somewhere else to open up."
He added: "For the 75 years we were in business, no one got sick from our product."
Some Molokai community members say they, too, are frustrated with the way health officials have handled the bakery's inspections.
"The community feels this is a - I won't lie - a full-on vendetta. It's personal," said Molokai resident Kehau Pule, a contributing writer for the Molokai Dispatch. "The place is spotless. He could've reopened (Wednesday)."
Pule said the bakery is special to the community.
"This business is not just a bakery. It's been in business for 75 years and is a legacy of Mr. Kanemitsu's mom and dad," she said.
The forced June closure stemmed from an anonymous complaint alleging that insects and foreign substances were found in bread rolls bought from Kanemitsu Bakery. That complaint prompted a June 20 inspection that the Health Department said revealed "visual sighting of rodents, no water available at the rinse compartment of the sink, unclean food preparation surfaces, no soap and hand towels at hand washing sinks, and general unsanitary conditions."
After making improvements, Kanemitsu requested Wednesday's follow-up inspection in an effort to reopen the bakery. He invited lawmakers to observe the inspection, including state Rep. Mele Carroll, whose district includes Molokai, and Maui County Council Chairman Danny Mateo, who holds the Molokai residency seat.
Carroll and Mateo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the bakery failed to address all of the violations cited in June.
"At this last inspection, unfortunately, all those items weren't properly corrected," Okubo said. "There were a number that he did correct, but he did not properly address all of them. We did make very clear at the June inspection that Mr. Kanemitsu really needed to meet the requirements of all of the deficiencies."
A copy of Wednesday's health inspection report provided to The Maui News included some of the following violations:
*?The establishment is not effectively protected from entry by vermin.
*?Doors are not self-closing.
*?Equipment is not designed for durability.
*?Floors are not smooth and easily cleanable.
*?Open spaces between ceiling panels.
*?Ventilation not adequate.
*?Table sides and corners were repaired with foil tape, which will not be durable with use.
*?Wall repair where air conditioner was removed is not smooth.
The list of corrected violations on the report included:
*?Hot and cold water available at three-compartment sink.
*?No roaches, rodents or evidence of vermin observed.
*?Aluminum single-service pans removed.
*?Oven handles cleaned.
*?Unused walk-in refrigerator interior cleaned.
*?Miscellaneous articles removed.
Okubo said this week's violations were not new, but carry-overs from June. Kanemitsu contends the list includes new violations.
"They target me because I always ask them questions, and I challenge their rules because their rules are very broad," he said. "I told the Health Department that some of their inspectors hold grudges. Anytime you go against them, I can feel they make it harder on me. I had to repaint walls to a lighter color because it was too dark. I was fined $10,000 for a dirty can opener. I mean, it's really ridiculous."
Before the June closure, the bakery also was ordered to suspend operations March 7 and 8 after inspections then uncovered "improper cleaning and sanitizing of cooking implements and surfaces, inadequate control of rodents, lack of hot water and general unsanitary conditions," according to a Health Department news release.
The department had allowed the bakery to reopen March 9 after finding it had successfully corrected the major violations. The bakery at that time was required to address remaining deficiencies and develop a maintenance plan to ensure unsanitary conditions do not reoccur.
Kanemitsu said work was previously estimated at $50,000 to address all the violations for the March and June reports.
"Most of it was done, but now there's the new ones," he said.
Kanemitsu has appealed the $90,000 fine imposed in March and said a hearing is scheduled for November.
The restaurant portion of the business operates out of a separate, permitted kitchen and remains open.
"But I can't sell our product, our buns and bread, in there, so I've lost a lot of business," Kanemitsu said.
Okubo said there are no deadlines to fix the violations.
"The timetable is up to the food establishment," she said. "Whenever he is ready to go through another inspection, he can contact us and we'll send an inspector to do a follow-up inspection. The sooner he can address those, the sooner he can reopen."
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.