September 20, 2012

State criticizes Portland's handling of rat-infested restaurant

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The state criticized Portland officials Thursday for allowing the owner of a restaurant and banquet hall to cook a lobster dinner for a wedding reception in a kitchen that had been closed for health code violations.

click image to enlarge

The Porthole Restaurant, the Comedy Connection, and Harbour's Edge, all on Custom House Wharf, were shut down Friday, September 14, 2012, by the Portland Health Inspector for what she cited as rat infestation, flies on food, drains going into the ocean, and other violations.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer: The Porthole Restaurant, the Comedy Connection, and Harbor's Edge, all on Custom House Wharf, were shut down Friday, September 14, 2012, by the Portland Health Inspector for what she cited as rat infestation, flies on food, drains going into the ocean, and other violations. A sign on the door of the Porthole told customers it was "closed due to water issues."

Gabe Souza

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The Porthole, the Comedy Connection and the Harbour's Edge banquet hall were closed for three days last week so their owner, Oliver Keithly, could correct numerous violations, including a rat infestation. All three businesses share a kitchen on Custom House Wharf.

Douglas Gardner, director of the city's Health and Human Services Department, said he personally approved a request to allow Keithly to cook a lobster dinner in that kitchen on Sept. 14, the day after it had been shut down.

Lisa Roy, the state's health inspector program manager, said Thursday that the request should not have been approved.

"If the inspector on site felt that (the kitchen) was not safe to prepare and serve food, and it was closed, then nothing should be happening in that operation with regard to cooking," Roy said.

The meal was served on the Casablanca harbor cruise boat, also owned by Keithly.

That same day, during a follow-up inspection, city health inspector Michele Sturgeon had seen a rat running out from behind the walk-in cooler and noted in her report that "deep cleaning" had not yet been done.

"It was a call I made," Gardner said Wednesday. "(The Porthole) had made progress. It was a limited private function. They were not serving in the building and it was a very limited menu."

Keithly could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

State officials do the health inspections at restaurants in most Maine communities. Portland is one of five that have state approval to do their own restaurant inspections, provided they comply with state guidelines.

Roy said the state would not allow a business that had been closed for health violations to cook a meal for a private function before it was cleared by the inspector.

It's unclear what enforcement action -- if any -- the state would take against the city.

"We will have discussions and a debriefing of this with the city of Portland," Roy said, noting that meeting will happen "very soon."

Gardner said he has yet to hear from the state.

"Considering this inspection was very complex, a debriefing with all involved might be a prudent next step," he said.

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

Twitter: @randybillings

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