SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A former San Diego food truck owner is accusing a local commissary of retaliation after he reported unsanitary conditions, according to a lawsuit filed in Superior Court.
Alex George has operated his food truck "Eat Your Heart Out" for several years.
By county rules, food trucks need to park at an approved commissary defined as "an approved permitted Retail Food Facility that services and supplies carts, trucks (occupied or not), mobile support units or vending machines."
George parked his food truck at Johnson's Catering on Ruffin Court. He's been there for three years, but over the past several months, he said there were issues.
"The basic health and food safety practices were still not being followed," George said.
Alex paid $900 per month to park there. " We keep to ourselves," he said. "We're clean, so we had a good relationship until this rat issue started."
According to his lawsuit filed against Johnson's Catering in October, George noticed improper trash and food waste disposal, which led to a rat issue.
"A few weeks later, they're on more trucks, and then a few weeks later, they're on more trucks," George said. "I sent [the owner] pictures. We spoke about it. He said he was going to have it taken care of."
He believes the commissary's operator and CEO—identified in the lawsuit as Hong "Hunter" Ho—did not do enough.
"The last straw was I was traveling back to West Virginia. My grandmother had passed away, and my employees got to work and they found rat droppings all over our truck so they couldn’t go to work that day," George said.
George took his complaints to the county, but alleged in the lawsuit that Ho retaliated instead of improving conditions. The lawsuit stated in August, Ho texted him to "vacate [his] spot by the end of the month."
The following month, the lawsuit stated that Ho "intentionally parked its forklift directly in front of [the food truck]" to prevent him from working. George said police got involved in that incident.
A couple of weeks after that, George said the owner tried to have him sign a document that said Ho can "terminate the tenancy for any reason at any time."
"I spent all this time and energy and effort into doing things the right way and then when I went to ask for help, I was punished for it," George said.
According to county records, Johnson's Catering has an A rating. The only complaint from the past year was George's, where the inspectors said they did not find evidence of an active infestation.
George feels his photos show a different story. “It’s very frustrating,” he said.
He is suing for breach of contract and negligence.
When Team 10 reached out to Johnson's Catering, a family member emailed a response to the accusations saying that they are "in full compliance with the San Diego County Department of Health and are fully cooperating with their inquiries."
He said they “provide monthly pest service for [their] facility” and claimed Alex had “a poor relationship with [them].” His email also said that George is blaming them for his current situation.
In a separate email, the lawyer for Johnson's Catering said the allegations are "demonstratively false."
George said there needs to be more attention paid to commissaries since so much food preparation is taking place at these facilities.
"There has to be significantly more oversight, regulation, enforcement, or why would this not continue?" he questioned.
The county's website states food establishments are inspected on a routine basis in compliance with state and local laws. If an imminent health hazard violation is found, the facility is closed in the impacted area. A spokesperson wrote in an email to Team 10 that “all facilities in San Diego County receive at least one routine inspection per year.”
George said the financial hardship of the pandemic combined with the issues at the commissary forced him to move to West Virginia with his wife's family.
He hopes the commissary makes changes. In the meantime, George is bringing his truck to West Virginia in search of better conditions. He said there are already plans in place to work with an established restaurant in his new town.
"I'm just a firm believer when one door closes, another one opens," he said.