The Hinesville Sonic is tight-lipped but open despite drawing regional attention after viral videos posted by a former employee exposed an alleged infestation of roaches.
The video, posted Wednesday on Facebook, shows roaches on the restaurant’s walls, inside the onion-ring machine, inside a cooler and moving around point-of-sale equipment. One of the videos has received more than 1,076 shares.
The poster, who created a pseudo-profile under the name Cinos Failure, captioned a video “check out what I got fired for exposing.”
Coastal Health District spokeswoman Sally Silbermann said the environmental-health department received a complaint Wednesday morning and followed up Thursday morning.
“Noting a problem, the restaurant was closed by the environmental-health inspector, and the restaurant took appropriate action to mitigate the problem,” she said, adding that the eatery was re-inspected Friday and re-opened.
A Courier employee confirmed Friday morning that the restaurant was open, but employees on hand declined to comment on the matter.
Corporate spokeswoman Christi Woodworth said she cannot discuss employment status, but she confirmed that a former employee made allegations about a pest infestation.
“Upon learning of the allegation, the franchisee who owns and operates the Hinesville Sonic immediately scheduled an additional pest-control treatment,” Woodworth said, citing the most recent restaurant scores were 95 and 96 “with no evidence of pest infestation at the drive-in.”
“If there was a pest issue in the drive-in, it was recent and has been acted upon,” she added. She said the drive-in is treated monthly for pests.
The video features conversations between presumed employees discussing the problem, and the dialogue alludes to a “roach man” spraying in some places.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of this …,” the videographer said. “If they’re surviving after he sprayed, then we really have a problem.”
Restaurant scores released from the Liberty County Health Department indicate that the chain has scored As on its past five inspections, with a 90 being the lowest score. It was recorded Oct. 21, 2011.
The restaurant last was inspected Nov. 15 and scored a 95, according to the Liberty County Public Health Inspection Page.
The Coastal Health District spokeswoman said state code requires restaurants to be inspected at least twice per year, but the health departments attempt more frequent inspections, especially when issues come to light between inspections.
The inspections, she said, focus on how well a facility is using prevention measures to reduce the potential for foodborne illness caused by the five most common risk factors as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
They include purchasing food from unsafe sources, failing to cook food adequately, holding food at incorrect temperatures, using contaminated equipment and practicing poor personal hygiene.
Deductions are made if violations are found during an inspection, and the state recognizes insect/rodent/animal issues as a three-point violation, Silbermann said. Typically, one- to three-point violations must be corrected before the next routine inspection.
When asked whether the business has been affected by the incident, Woodworth said the company does not disclose sales information for specific locations and will “continue to be a good community partner in Hinesville.”
So has the incident prompted area consumers to reconsider their dining habits?
Facebook commenter Lindsey Elmore-McClure said she and her family had a roach incident at the restaurant a year ago and have not returned.
Commenter Mary Sharkey said she ate at the chain only once about five years ago but added that she never again plans to patronize a fast-food restaurant in Hinesville.
Shannon Maggart, co-owner of Donut Connection, asserted that although Sonic may not be on her list of places to eat, “there are a lot of clean, nice places to eat in Hinesville.”
Maggart later said that it does not take long for infestations to happen, but that the management should be held accountable because “there is no excuse for nastiness and no excuse for bugs.”
Still, other posters think it’s the sign of a greater problem among health-department inspections.
“After watching the videos yesterday, I made up my mind to stop eating out at places,” David Miles Flory said. “In my mind, if it’s happening there, it’s happing at other places too. Just not going to chance it.”
Kimberly Miller-Maldonado agreed.
“We will never eat at Sonic again nor any other fast-food restaurant; they passed inspection the last two months, which means the inspectors should be fired — those roaches have been there for a long period of time!” Miller-Maldonado wrote. “The guy who videotaped that I’m sure knew about it way before he finally decided to post videos of it.”