Flashback: Adam Murphy profile regarding ‘Restaurant Report Card’

071127 Duluth,GA: WGCL reporter, Adam Murphy, and photographer A.J. Willen, confront a worker at the Super New China Buffet as part of his Restaurant Report Card” which zings restaurants with failing health inspections. Murphy also visits restaurants with good health inspection scores and praises them for their good work. (Brant Sanderlin photo/Staff)

Posted December 6, 2007 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

At a quiet strip center near Gwinnett Place mall, WGCL-TV consumer reporter Adam Murphy and cameraman A.J. Willen enter Super New China Buffet.

Dressed in a crisp Brooks Brothers suit, Murphy confronts an employee about a recent health inspection report that included comments about salad dressing kept at improper temperatures and roaches.

“Have you cleaned up the roach problem?” Murphy asks. She just smiles helplessly, a deer in the headlights, and says, “Sorry. I can’t speak English.”

“There’s got to be somebody in charge or managing the restaurant right now,” he says impatiently.

Normally, Murphy gets booted from restaurants he confronts each Thursday by angry store managers. But in this case, there’s no manager in sight.

“That was frustrating,” Murphy said later. “My mission is to go in there and make sure they’ve cleaned up their act.”

This is a mission 34-year-old Murphy has been on for nearly five years with his “Restaurant Report Card” on the local CBS affiliate. Managers have called the cops on him. They’ve verbally cussed and threatened him, but nobody has hurt him — yet.

“People have shoved me out the door and placed their hands on the camera,” Murphy said. He notes that he has the legal right to enter the premises and stay there until told otherwise. Sometimes, he does feel uncomfortable at ethnic restaurants when there’s a language barrier. “But if these restaurant people don’t understand me, then they don’t understand the inspectors,” he said.

Murphy doesn’t take credit for the tougher state restaurant inspection regulations, which went into effect Dec. 1, but he’s happy about them. “The state was behind the game the last few years,” he said. He likes that restaurants now must post scores on drive-through windows, employees must wear gloves in the kitchen and inspections are now standardized.

Naturally, restaurant owners and managers targeted by Murphy aren’t exactly fans. “I don’t like it at all,” said Erica Chang, a spokeswoman for Super New China Buffet, who says the restaurant has regular pest control visits. “TV reports like this are not good.” (The restaurant, which received a failing score of 64 last week, improved to an 89 at a reinspection earlier this week.)

For balance, Murphy highlights a restaurant with a high score every week. Last Thursday, for instance, he spent more than an hour at Depeaux, a new Cajun restaurant in Decatur, which received a perfect health inspection score. “I’ve had a number of people come in and say they saw the piece,” manager Frank Coughlan said Wednesday. Watching the segment with Super New China Buffet, he said, “I think it keeps people honest. Personally, I’m a stickler. We are cleaning the kitchen constantly.”

Georgia Restaurant Association executive director Ron Wolf took a Switzerland-like approach to Murphy‘s “Restaurant Report Card“: “It’s part of what the media does. I’m sure some find it useful. Others don’t take it seriously.”

Murphy, who scans hundreds if not thousands of inspection reports every week from health departments in metro Atlanta, has captured a live roach on camera scurrying across the floor of a Henry County pizza place. He’s had employees of a Chinese restaurant run out of the place en masse when he arrived. He watched inspectors shut down a Wendy’s in Lawrenceville during lunch hour.

Vernon Goins, a Gwinnett County Health Department spokesman, loves Murphy‘s reports. “He’s an indispensable asset to public health education,” he said. “He exerts pressure on the food service industry we can’t provide. It’s also extremely entertaining.”

Murphy, a Dunwoody native and Marist High grad, has wanted to be a reporter since he was a kid and says he’s now “living out my dream.” With a folksy style and boyish face, he also possesses a distinctly raspy voice that sounds like he’s smokes two packs a day but is merely genetic.

He’s also a good marketer, promoting his weekly reports on top 40 station Q100, country station South 107 in Rome, the Sunday Paper and Jezebel magazine.

Listening to Murphy gab about rat droppings and rotting meat “is like a traffic accident,” said Q100 morning host Bert Weiss, who’s had Murphy on every few weeks for several years. “You don’t want to watch, but you can’t break away from it.”

Murphy readily admits he’s not the first reporter to go after dirty restaurants. Since 2000, hundreds of TV stations have done this type of “gotcha” reporting nationwide, said Michael Castengera, a University of Georgia media lecturer and consultant to seven TV stations, none in Atlanta.

“It’s not broadcast or promoted as much as it once was” at other stations, said Castengera. “But Adam has taken this on and made it really personality driven. It’s not only the restaurant report, but it’s also Adam. People identify with him and feel he’s going to bat for them.”

Murphy‘s job doesn’t deter him and his wife, Angie, from eating out four times a week. He just checks inspection scores everywhere he goes. If it’s below 80, he walks.

And better yet, he has not had a case of food poisoning since he started doing the reports. “Either I’m lucky,” he said, “or what I do actually works.”