The Monkey King's Andrew Chen must have been beyond confused when the fire marshal showed up on Friday night to conduct a safety inspection. Inspection officials typically work something closer to a 9 to 5, he thought, and suddenly this one was handing him a notice stating his roof deck was to be shut down immediately. To make sure customers didn't continue to use the structure, the furniture was to be dismantled as well.
The fire marshal was right; the spiral staircase that leads to the roof deck might as well be a stairway to heaven, provided the stairwell user confesses regularly. It's two inches narrower than the minimum width mandated by city code, and it's so steep it feels precarious, especially when you're holding a tray filled with noodles and dumplings.
See also: All Hail The Monkey King
But according to Chen, the same fire marshal's office green-tagged the structure when Monkey King first opened, and that was in the fall of 2013. That series of inspections was detailed enough to discover a vent stack had to be redirected because it was a fire hazard. The entire roof deck, though? The city must have missed it.
Friday's visit wasn't the first bit of attention Chen got from the city. Back in October, a code compliance inspector dropped by to let him know someone had reported a sidewalk violation. The two small tables Chen sets up in front of the shop for noodle slurpers hadn't been permitted, and he was in violation.
That inspector noted the diners on the rooftop during his visit and issued another citation. Monkey King was permitted as a retail establishment, just like a bakery that sells you a cupcake before they kick you out the door. But because diners were dipping dumplings while seated on the roof, the business was operating as a restaurant, the inspector argued. Chen claims that when filing for his permit he was asked if customers would be eating inside the restaurant. When he told compliance employees no, a retail permit was issued.
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Still, the inspector's citation stuck. Chen said he was given 10 days to address the issues, a term that's laughable to anyone who's tried to navigate the city's permitting office. And the discrepancies, along with some return visits by the city, have lead to some tense interactions between the owners of Monkey King and city officials. That's about when the fire marshal got involved.
Chen and his partners dismantled the rooftop furniture as the fire marshal directed -- a move he says ruined the furniture. He also has his lawyer working to expedite the citations and keep his business operating.
As for the rooftop, Chen is working with his landlord. In addition to replacing the spiral staircase, a second set of steps has to be built for additional egress, in case the Monkey King's noodle cooker gets too hot and burns the place to the ground. This is a valid requirement that will protect would-be noodle slurpers and it should be enforced.
Still, all of this work would likely have been avoided, or at least completed before the restaurant opened, if the city had handled the inspections consistently. Barring some unforeseen twist, it's obvious that code compliance is in the wrong -- either by way of the inspectors that gave Chen the green light a little over a year ago, or the inspectors that are tangling his noodles now. But to Chen, none of that matters: The Monkey King is the one who is forced to pay for the city's incompetence, whenever the city gets around to addressing it.