September 17, 2012

Three waterfront businesses cleared to reopen

Two days after serious health violations closed the Porthole restaurant, Comedy Connection and Harbour’s Edge, the city says all major concerns have been addressed.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Three businesses located on Portland's Custom House Wharf, which were shut down by the city last week, have been cleared by the city's health inspector to reopen.

click image to enlarge

The Porthole, the Comedy Connection and Harbour's Edge, all on Custom House Wharf, were closed by the city health inspector Thursday for violations that included rat droppings and flies.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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The Porthole restaurant, the Comedy Connection, and the Harbour's Edge banquet hall passed a city health inspection conducted Saturday afternoon, two days after health inspector Michele Sturgeon reported finding "rat droppings everywhere" in the businesses' liquor storage area and on shelves, as well as "rotting, decayed mouse traps," and "tons of flies all over the food."

A pest management company was brought in Friday morning in an effort to correct the issues Sturgeon found, said city spokesperson Nicole Clegg.

"After Thursday, the business owner acted very aggressively to correct the problems," Clegg said.

Clegg did not know which pest control company was hired and the businesses' owner, Oliver Keithly, did not return a message left on his cellphone Sunday night.

Clegg said Sturgeon was asked to return Saturday to re-inspect the properties, which share the same kitchen and are listed on the same food establishment license.

Clegg said it is not uncommon for a follow-up inspection to take place so soon after a shutdown. She described the situation as a balancing act between preserving jobs and protecting the public's health.

"We are very aware that peoples' livelihoods are at stake," Clegg said. "But we are also concerned about the public health."

Clegg said Sturgeon found that Keithly had addressed all of the major concerns, including the rat droppings.

"There was nothing identified as a critical violation (on Saturday)," Clegg said. "All the critical violations had been addressed."

Clegg said she had heard through independent sources that the Porthole reopened Sunday morning. It was closed Sunday night, as was the Comedy Connection. The Comedy Connection's next show is scheduled for Thursday, according to the club's website.

Contacted Sunday night, Sturgeon declined to comment further, referring all questions to Clegg.

The Porthole opened in 1929. Keithly, in a previous interview, said he purchased the business in 1998.

Clegg said Thursday's inspection was prompted by an anonymous complaint filed with the state.

Sturgeon followed up on the complaint and found several public health violations, including a bar sink and a floor drain that led directly into Portland Harbor, rather than the city's sewer system. That problem had been fixed by Saturday.

But Clegg said there are still a few minor issues that need to be addressed before the city will be fully satisfied.

For instance, the city will need to see a copy of the pest management company's contract and final report and all containers in the establishments will need to be labeled.

Earlier this year, the city started holding informational meetings with restaurant owners after some establishments expressed concerns that Sturgeon, who began her full-time job about a year ago, was being too aggressive in enforcing public health laws.

"We all share the same goals. No one wants to see anyone get sick," Clegg said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

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