September 15, 2012

City closes three waterfront businesses

Citing health code violations including ‘rat droppings’ and ‘TONS of flies all over the food,’ officials shut down the Porthole restaurant and two other sites owned by Oliver Keithly.

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - City officials have shut down three waterfront businesses, including the well-known Porthole restaurant, citing numerous health code violations including a "serious rat infestation."

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The Porthole restaurant, the Comedy Connection and Harbour’s Edge were shut down Thursday afternoon by the Portland health inspector, who cited numerous violations.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Employees of The Porthole on Custom House Wharf wait outside the building Friday afternoon after the restaurant, along with the Comedy Connection and Harbour’s Edge, were shut down because of numerous health code violations. Business owner Oliver Keithly did not respond to calls for comment Friday, and employees at the Porthole said he was not inside.

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The Porthole, the Comedy Connection and the Harbour's Edge banquet hall, all owned by Oliver Keithly, were closed Thursday afternoon after health inspector Michele Sturgeon inspected them in response to a written complaint.

Sturgeon found "rat droppings everywhere" in the businesses' liquor storage area and on shelves, as well as "rotting, decayed mouse traps," according to her report. "TONS of flies all over the food" and "lobster and other exposed seafood," she wrote.

According to past health inspection reports, the Porthole was last inspected in July 2008. That report noted a need to clean up around the Dumpster, improve general cleaning and get a follow-up inspection for plumbing violations.

City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said late Friday that electronic files showed a follow-up inspection was done in 2009, but the report was not immediately available, even though all past inspection records were requested Friday morning.

Keithly did not respond to calls for comment Friday, and employees at the Porthole said he was not inside. A woman who came outside as a reporter approached Keithly's home in South Portland said he was at the restaurant.

Initially, employees and a sign in the window said the Porthole was closed because of "water issues." Later, as reporters gathered, employees replaced the sign with one that read: "Closed, sorry for the inconvenience."

Many would-be patrons were disappointed to find the Porthole closed Friday. The restaurant was featured on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" show in 2010.

"I guess this is the dive part," said Al Purdy, 51, who was visiting from Iowa.

People who were turned away Friday evening said they were disappointed.

"I wanted fried scallops and the french fries with the vinegar," said Jen Federico of Kezar Falls. "Ooh, they're the best." "It's always good drinks, always good people," said Rick Bedrcuist of Long Island. "It's just a good place."

The Porthole opened in 1929 as a coffee shop and candy store. In previous interviews, Keithly said he believed it was featured on the Food Network because of its "authenticity."

He noted that the Porthole hadn't changed much since he bought it in 1998. It has the same copper countertop and bar stools it had in the 1920s, an open kitchen so customers can see the food being prepared, and lobster buoys hanging on the walls.

The city inspected the restaurant Thursday, the day it got the complaint, which highlighted rat problems and said "several people got sick" from eating "bad potato salad" at a function at the Harbour's Edge banquet hall.

Included in the city's inspection report was a copy of an invoice to the Jensen Baird Gardner and Henry law firm, dated July 17, for a company event for 40 or more people. No one at the firm was authorized to comment on the event, said Tiffany Gould, the firm's accounting director.

Douglas Gardner, director of Portland's Health and Human Services Department, said the city never called the law firm to ask whether any employees had fallen ill after the event. That portion of the investigation was referred to the state, he said.

The city inspector found windows and doors propped open without screens, dish rags on the floor, and no "employees must wash hands" signs in the bathroom.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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A sign on the Porthole restaurant says it was “closed due to water issues” Friday. Employees later replaced the sign with one that read: “Closed, sorry for the inconvenience.”

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A man works on a door on the back of Harbour's Edge on Custom House Wharf on Friday.

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What appears to be a rat trap is seen outside the Comedy Connection on Friday after it was shut down by the Portland health inspector.

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