Matador opens up about E. coli investigation

KING 5's Elisa Hahn reports.

A local restaurant is preparing to open its doors after an E. coli outbreak shut it down a week ago.

The question is will its customers come back?

On Friday, Matador’s chief culinary officer agreed to allow our cameras inside and talk about the investigation.

“We're proud of the way we operate our kitchen and the cleanliness and sanitation practices that have always been in place,” said Tom Small. “When something like this happens, and you realize there isn't anything you can do to prevent it, it's incredibly impactful.”

Back in the kitchen, the staff was deseeding jalapenos and roasted peppers. The prep work in a Mexican restaurant is a time-consuming process. Just like these jalapenos, Matador has gone through a gutting.

“We're down to zero product, starting from scratch,” said one employee.

The old food thrown out, new food trucked in, all for Saturday's reopening. The restaurant even discarded a thousand avocados.

Matador's Chief Culinary Officer knows Saturday is their chance to recover. He said they focus on giving their customers a great experience, and to know that some had fallen ill was a great disappointment.

Seven people who ate at the restaurant tested positive for E. coli. A family of a 16-year-old girl who suffered kidney failure has filed suit against the restaurant.

Without knowing the source of the outbreak that sickened its customers, they're following the advice of health inspectors, sanitizing everything from the utensils to the tables, reinforcing past cleaning practices on produce.

“Cilantro and leafy greens, those are particularly complicated to wash,” Small said. “So we go through a process of fully submerging and draining and it's almost like when you're rinsing rice. Looking at the water making sure the water looks great.

After grilling the staff about possible illnesses, investigators are now leaning away from blaming food handling, focusing more on products and suppliers.

“They actually built flow charts off all our recipes,” said Small, “to identify all the individual ingredients.”

What's frustrating for the chain's flagship restaurant is not knowing the answer, and the likeliness it may never be found.

“The biggest thing is the fear of the unknown,” Small said. “And as long as it’s unknown there is going to be some degree of fear. I can tell you with certainty that the vendors and products we purchased are used all over the city.”

On Saturday at 11 a.m., the chairs will come down, and the doors will reopen. Matador is hoping the customers return.

Copyright 2016 KING


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