Graffiti, Trash Plagues Empty Restaurant Visible Off I-8

Todai, once a popular sushi restaurant, is now an empty building surrounded by graffiti and trash

A once-popular sushi restaurant in the Mission Valley area has become a hotbed for graffiti and trash, causing a daily eyesore for commuters traveling on Interstate 8 and on surrounding streets.

These days, Todai – a former all-you-can-eat Japanese sushi restaurant on Camino del Rio South highly visible off both directions of the I-8 – is permanently closed for business.

In its afterlife, the restaurant is now covered in graffiti and surrounded by overgrown weeds, trash, mattresses and other unsightly debris.

A worker on the property told NBC 7 the building is set to be demolished in about a month. A demo crew was on site Thursday checking out the restaurant. NBC 7 went inside Todai, which is now a shell of  its former self.

More trash, scattered chairs, ladders and broken furniture now fill the dining room. At the entrance, the neon green Todai sign remains on, but clearly, nobody is home.

The building’s disheveled appearance has caught the eye of some locals, including Susie Horne, who works at a nearby business.

Horne just started her new job this week and said she was shocked to see all the weeds and trash surrounding the area.

“I wish they would get someone, something to fix it up. Put a fence around it,” she told NBC 7.

Phaedra Buxman also works nearby and walks for exercise around the area during her lunch break.

She admits that walking by the Todai building is rather unpleasant.

“This is really unsightly for all of us out here, and very dirty and a lot of gross things,” said Buxman.

NBC 7 reached out to Councilman Scott Sherman's office Thursday, whose district includes the Todai property, regarding code compliance for the empty restaurant building.

Jeff Powell, a spokesperson for Sherman's office, said their office reported the issues with the building to code compliance on May 14.

Powell said inspectors have already mailed the warning of citation to the property owner, and an inspection of the site will occur soon to see if the owners have cleaned the property.

"The property owner has a period of time to correct the code violation once he receives the warning. If the problem is not corrected, fines will be assessed," he explained.

On Friday, after NBC 7's story aired, Lynda Pfeifer of the City of San Diego's Development Service Department confirmed that a $1,000 graffiti citation had been issued to the property owner. Pfeifer said that citation was issued on May 20.

“Code Enforcement left a message for the property owner this morning describing the nature of the egregious violations at his abandoned property. He was directed to contact Code Enforcement as soon as possible," said Pfeifer.

"An Abatement Notice will be prepared and posted today. The owner will have 10 calendar days to abate from the day the notice is posted. If the owner does not comply or appeal within 10 calendar days, the City will proceed with abatement and seek to recover costs at a hearing,” she added..

Pfeifer also said no permits for demolition had been issued to the property and the city would be sending an inspector to the site to assess the situation.

NBC 7 called the Todai company headquarters for comment on the matter, but our call was not immediately returned.

State records show that Todai San Diego is owned by a California corporation called Palmetto Food Mart, Inc., That corporation is registered to Won Jip Cho, who has an address in Irvine, Calif.

Property county records show that the property is owned by Dean Lehr, who opened the popular Lehr's Greenhouse Restaurant at the location in 1979. He built the unique structure to resemble an actual greenhouse, and filled it with plants and ferns decorating the tables.

Lehr told NBC 7 on Friday that despite the property record information, he no longer owns the building. Lehr said he sold the property in March and has no responsibility for its current condition. 

Lehr said the company to which he had leased the property abandoned the business and the building on Mother's Day last year. 

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