FARGO — For Bojin Chen, a nearly empty King House Buffet was evidence of how business has declined at his downtown restaurant in the weeks since health officials discovered caged pigeons in the basement.
"You see no people here," Chen told The Forum as he looked around the restaurant. "Usually there's still a lot of people around after lunch rush."
Chen said "a lot of people changed their mind" about his restaurant after news reports of caged pigeons found in the basement, which he said is "totally separate" from the restaurant.
King House Buffet, 122 Broadway N., was the subject of a Fargo Cass Public Health investigation May 8 after the agency received a tip regarding the pigeons.
That tip came from the landlord, Kilbourne Group, according to a company spokesperson, who said Kilbourne shares the basement with King House. Kilbourne acquired the entire Merchants National Bank building in 2016, and Chen signed a lease with the company in March 2018.
Chen said business was good up until last month's pigeon episode. "Some people still come, but not like before," he said, adding that the number of King House customers was previously double or triple what the restaurant has seen in the last few weeks.
Chen said he and his wife, Cindy, are going to see how business is over the next two months and then they will decide whether to keep the doors open. "I'd like to stay here," he said. "Everybody telling me it will get better."
"If people want it open, come here," he said. "They don't come to eat, they want me to close."
John Leopold, of Thief River Falls, Minn., said he's been a King House customer since 1989 and makes it a point to stop by the restaurant when in town.
"It's a quick, easy place to eat at," he said as he left the restaurant on a recent afternoon, fortune cookie in hand. "I've never had a bad experience, and I always leave very satisfied."
Leopold said he was aware of the pigeon incident, but doesn't believe the birds were being served at the restaurant (Health officials previously said they found no indication or evidence the birds were being served).
"I'll keep coming here," Leopold said, adding that "it would be a shame" if the business closed.
Reviews on the restaurant's Facebook page since the incident have been by and large positive. And it still holds a 4.3 out of 5 star rating.
Follow-up inspections by health officials have been positive, too, with no major violations noted.
The day after pigeons were discovered and corrective actions were ordered, no pigeons were present in the basement, according to a May 9 report. There were no serious violations found during the most recent routine inspection by the health department on May 30.
"King House has been very cooperative and does not have any issues that we would consider ongoing," said Grant Larson, director of environmental health with Fargo Cass Public Health, in an email to The Forum.