Baltimore shut down the newest arrival to the city’s dining scene, before, its owner says, the restaurant even launched. The Baltimore City Health Department closed Toki Underground on Wednesday, the date the ramen restaurant was originally planned to open, for operating without a license.
“We were shut down before we were ever open,” said co-owner Jeff Jetton. Though he had planned to debut Toki Underground — the highly anticipated second branch of the Washington, D.C., eatery — on Wednesday, he said that date was pushed back. But Jetton said The Baltimore Sun published a reel on its Instagram account this week that described the restaurant at 2731 Greenmount Ave. as ready for business. (The video is no longer available.)
Jetton said that video prompted a visit from a health inspector who mistakenly “thought we were open when we weren’t.” While the restaurant had hosted a private “friends and family” event a few days prior, Jetton said: “We don’t even have our reservations open yet. We are still waiting on [our] final use and occupancy” permit. “We follow all the rules,” he added.
Health department spokesperson Arinze Ifekauche confirmed that inspectors had heard about Toki Underground’s opening in The Sun, “then checked the database for an active food permit; and then conducted a surprise inspection when it was determined that Toki did not have a permit.”
Ifekauche stated that during that inspection, “our staff observed and documented evidence that Toki’s was in fact operating, and the restaurant was subsequently shut down. It is also worth noting that the restaurant did not say that it had yet to officially open for business when our inspector was shutting it down.”
The situation appeared to be resolved by late Friday afternoon. Jetton sent an image of the restaurant’s permit in a text message to a Baltimore Banner reporter and wrote that they “are approved with all necessary permits and licenses to open for business.”
Toki Underground will now officially launch on Saturday, the owners said.
Jetton and his business partners had trumpeted the eatery’s arrival with tongue-in-cheek billboards around Baltimore, including one that listed ramen among local legends like Thurgood Marshall and another that said: “Goodbye crab cakes. Hello ramen.” A few residents on Twitter responded to news of the shutdown with jabs at the advertising. “I guess they saw the billboards,” wrote one user.
Restaurants in Baltimore are frequently shut down for permitting issues; of the 84 restaurants closed by the health department so far this year, 38 have been for operating without a license. Still, it’s unusual for a business to be closed on the date of its advertised debut.
This article has been updated.