Oak Tree's Chinese kitchen reopens

Poor health score had closed facility at Woodland restaurant

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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A Woodland restaurant is back serving Chinese food after the Cowlitz County Health Department temporarily shut it down for violating a number of critical health codes.

A Dec. 12 health inspection found that a kitchen used to prepare Chinese food at the Oak Tree Restaurant, also known as Lucky 21 Casino, used incorrect heating, cooling and holding temperatures, improperly identified food and stored dirty and corroded utensils in a gap between refrigerators. While it takes a score of 75 to shut down a kitchen, the Oak Tree's kitchen used to prepare Chinese food scored 108 points.

A perfect score is zero.

A second inspection of the kitchen Tuesday received a score of zero, which resulted in the kitchen reopening and the Chinese food menu being reinstated.

The initial health inspection turned up a number of what the state considers to be the most serious violations. They included storing pork at the wrong temperature and keeping about 30 gallons of a type of beef-based soup on the kitchen floor, according to the inspection report.

Wally Fitzwater, an Oak Tree spokesman, said the kitchen worked to fix the violations. The 48,000-square-foot building off Interstate 5 at 1020 Atlantic Ave. uses two kitchens to prepare food. A second kitchen, used for everything that's not Chinese food, received a perfect score.

Elizabeth Vaughn, an epidemiologist with the Cowlitz County Health Department, said the violations could have posed a risk to patrons had they not been corrected. She said a score of 108 was high for a restaurant.

But, she added, most restaurants don't have two separate kitchens specializing in different types of food.

"It's rare to have two kitchens," she said. "Because they have two kitchens, they have quite a few menu items."

The violation-riddled health inspection was the latest bump along a rocky two-year road for the Woodland institution. In 2011, a new ownership group bought the decades-old restaurant and announced plans to add a cardroom.

But in December 2012, the restaurant and cardroom abruptly closed after racking up more than $80,000 in debt.

A Portland-based group, Lucky 21 Casino LLC, purchased the space in February, promising to reopen both the restaurant and cardroom. After a major overhaul of the Oak Tree's interior -- and changes to its menu offerings, including an expansion of its Chinese food offerings -- the restaurant reopened in April, followed by the cardroom in September.