Saigon Cuisine’s initial opening in mid-December was short lived, but it finally opened for good on Jan. 15.
Two weeks after the new Vietnamese BYOB opened on 40th and Chestnut streets in December, it was closed down by the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections.
Giovanni Caputo, a Philadelphia building inspector, found that the new restaurant did not have a certificate of occupancy, a sprinkler system or a fire suppression permit.
Caputo issued an order for Saigon to close on Dec. 26 until the restaurant obtained the proper documents and certifications.
“We had no choice but to shut down,” Co-owner Joey Sang said.
Sang was under the impression that since the space had been a restaurant before he bought it, a new certificate of occupancy was not necessary.
“When it’s [a] restaurant to restaurant [transition], you don’t need a [certificate],” he said. “You aren’t changing the zoning.”
However, Executive Director of Real Estate for Penn Facilities and Real Estate Services Ed Datz clarified that this does not hold true for all properties.
“Depending on the extent of construction, the tenant may be required to get a new certificate of occupancy,” he said.
Sang was also unaware that the restaurant needed a sprinkler system.
“I went to check the violations when I purchased the business to get a permit for the renovation … but [the sprinkler violation] didn’t show up,” he said.
Upon learning of the violation, Sang said that because there had been a restaurant in the building previously that did not have a a sprinkler system, he did not think anything of it.
“It seemed to us we didn’t need one,” he said.
Saigon replaced the French-Thai restaurant Nan. Nan’s owner, Kamol Phutlek, closed the restaurant when he fell ill last spring.
When Sang’s restaurant was shut down by L&I, he became extremely frustrated.
He said that the University, which owns the building, should have told him what he needed to do when they were in negotiations and working on the terms of the lease.
Sang also believed that the installation of sprinkler system should be the landlord’s responsibility, not the tenants’.
“I had two months of renovating before we opened … it’s bad for my restaurant to be opened for 10 days and then closed,” Sang said.
However, Datz said that the University had kept Sang informed throughout the process.
“Penn advised the tenant to confirm that the requirements had been met by speaking to L&I and then notify Penn of the outcomes,” Datz said. “Unfortunately, it does not appear that the tenant verified the requirements prior to their opening.”
Since was forced to close on Dec. 26, Saigon Cuisine has obtained the proper certifications and has installed a sprinkler system.
Now, the restaurant hopes to put the incident behind them.
“We will do the best we can to get back our reputation,” Manager Ten Lam said. “We want our customers to know we are good quality.”