In his first public interview since a Shigella outbreak sickened about 200, the owner of a San Jose Mexican seafood restaurant said on Friday his establishment is now clean and reopened, although business is down about 70 percent at his other two eateries.
Sergio Becerra Cruz, owner of Mariscos San Juan No. 3 on North Fourth Street, said he's very sorry for the bacterial spread from his restaurant on Oct. 16 and 17.
But Cruz doesn't think his employees started it. Customers began to get sick on a Friday, he said, and his employee didn't get sick until Sunday. He gave NBC Bay Area a tour of his freshly scrubbed kitchen and vowed all his equipment and food was spotless and safe.
But at this point, Cruz said he felt he's done all he can do.
Business Down 70 Percent, Owner of San Jose Restaurant Chain at Center of Shigella Outbreak Says
"All this is not in my hands," Cruz said. "I can try to do better this time."
Santa Clara County Department of Health doctors confirmed as much, by pinpointing the bacteria to a single worker after she fell sick, but determined the food handler was not the cause of the Shigella outbreak. The county issued the restaurant a clean bill of health on Thursday afternoon.
Cruz owns two other restaurants, also in San Jose: Mariscos San Juan at 348 Willow Street and Mariscos San Juan No. 2 at 1718 Senter Road. While his third restaurant has been closed for more than three weeks, his other two have been open. But he said it seems like customers have been steering clear of those establishments as well.
On Friday morning, three customers were spotted eating at the reopened location, and told NBC Bay Area they hadn't known about the Shigella outbreak. Still, even if they had known, they said they would have come anyway. To thank loyal customers, everything on the menu was half-price.
Cruz has legal troubles as well. At least three people have sued him since the outbreak spread to six counties, and about 12 people were taken to various intensive care units because of severe diarrhea and vomiting, the most common symptoms of the disease.
Employee Tests Positive For Shigella, Not Cause of Outbreak
In all, there were 194 cases reported to the county health department. Of those, 111 were confirmed by lab results.
Mariscos No. 3 got the green light to reopen after voluntarily throwing away all the restaurant’s food products as well as cleaning and sanitizing the entire facility. The workers were also retrained in food safety and food handling procedures.
NBC Bay Area's Damian Trujillo contributed to this report.