PACE, Fla. - A Japanese hibachi steakhouse in Florida permanently closed its doors after seven customers alleged they tested positive for methamphetamine hours after eating at the restaurant earlier this month.
Management at Nikko Japanese Steak House, a hibachi restaurant in Pace, which is about 15 miles north of Pensacola in northwest Florida, wrote in a Facebook post on July 7 that they would permanently close the restaurant after 10 years in business, blaming news reports and online social media posts about the allegations.
The Santa Rosa Sheriff's Office opened an investigation on July 10 after two groups of people who were seated together and ate at the restaurant reported feeling "drugged" and odd after eating at the restaurant the day before.
Members of both groups went to the hospital where at least seven people test positive for meth, according to the sheriff's office report. A to-go container of food from the restaurant was tested and came back presumptive positive for meth, the report said.
"From the moment the story broke, we cooperated with authorities and all licensing agencies. It was determined by the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office that there was nothing linking the restaurant to the accusations, and after a clear survey by the health department, we re-open our doors," the restaurant said.
"We are so thankful to our regulars who came back to support us, unfortunately it just wasn’t enough to keep the doors open. Since then, we have been brutally harassed, daily, by various media outlets, who have slandered and defamed every aspect of our business."
No arrests were made, and no criminal charges were filed.
Deputies said in their report that they could not determine if anyone had intentionally or unintentionally contaminated food served at the restaurant and without any witnesses, criminal charges were not pursued, the report said.
What allegedly happened?
According to the sheriff's office's report, two groups – one a family of four and the other a group of three friends – were sat together at a hibachi table around 7 or 8 p.m. on June 9. The chef cooked the meal in front of them, they ate the meal, and both groups went home.
According to the report, the family of four – a 41-year-old mom, 41-year-old dad, 18-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son – told deputies they soon experienced several symptoms after eating at the restaurant.
The mom told deputies that she then was part of a six-hour conversation with her son and daughter until 4:30 a.m., which was unusual for them. She said repeatedly that she needed to check on their father, but "could never pull away from their talk."
She also said that her son was up until 7 a.m. and began to clean his room. She said her son mentioned that he was tired, but couldn't sleep, that his jaw hurt, and that he was excessively chewing his lip.
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The dad said he felt strange and spent six hours in his shed watching TV. He experienced symptoms like feeling hot, sweaty, chest-pounding, confusion, teeth pain, jaw pain, and seeing shadows.
Once the family realized they had been up all night and were acting "weird," they went to a local pharmacy to buy an at-home drug test. They took the test, which was positive for meth, the report said.
They then went to the hospital where a doctor tested them for meth, which also came back positive. Deputies tested leftovers from the restaurant – fried rice and chicken – which tested presumptive positive for meth.
While a deputy was talking to the family at the hospital, a deputy heard from the other group – the three friends – who reported feeling ill after eating at the restaurant. The three of them – two 32-year-olds and a 21-year-old – responded to the hospital.
All three tested positive for meth, the report said. Their to-go box, filled with fried rice, steak and vegetables, also tested positive, according to the report.
More questions than answers
Deputies, according to the report, talked with several people during the investigation – the restaurant owners, restaurant employees, staff, and management, as well as customers.
They tested two soy sauce bottles and two soy sauce packets, which tested presumptive positive for meth. However, it was also noted in the report that they could have been false positives since all tested positive.
Fresh rice that was in a dumpster behind the restaurant was tested, which came back negative, the report said.
An unknown employee?
As deputies were interviewing people, a manager said while they would not hire someone who did drugs, it was possible that an "outsider could have come in and did this."
The manager told deputies that the day before someone arrived at the restaurant in a chef's outfit and was witnessed in the kitchen. The person said he had been hired as a chef at the restaurant, but the manager said no new chefs had been hired and told him to leave, which he did, according to the report.
That person then went to the back parking lot for several hours, while waiting to be picked up by someone, the report said. The manager confirmed that the person has filled out an application. She also said no one had recently been fired.