The Wok Inn on Forest Avenue is open once again. Health inspector Michele Sturgeon shut down the restaurant Nov. 20, citing excessive health violations.
By Leslie Bridgers
PORTLAND — The Wok Inn restaurant on Forest Avenue reopened Tuesday, more than a week after the city shut it down because of an "imminent health hazard."
The Wok Inn, which was shut down after failing four health inspections since April, is among four Portland restaurants to be closed in the past two months for health code violations. The other three -- Sapporo Restaurant, The Loft and Mekhong Thai -- have reopened after correcting violations.
Mekhong Thai and The Loft, which share a building at 865 Forest Ave., were closed because of cockroach infestations, said Nicole Clegg, spokeswoman for the city. The manager of The Loft denied Tuesday that the restaurant had an infestation.
An inspection report said Sapporo, a restaurant on Commercial Street that is under new ownership, needed a "heavy cleaning."
The city has shut down nine restaurants since hiring its first health inspector last year and increasing its enforcement of food-safety rules.
Buffalo Wings-N-Things on Cumberland Avenue and three businesses that shared a kitchen on Custom House Wharf -- the Porthole restaurant, the Harbour's Edge banquet hall and the Comedy Connection nightclub -- remain closed.
Health inspector Michele Sturgeon shut down the Wok Inn on Nov. 20, citing excessive health violations, including numerous violations repeated from previous inspections.
Violations included evidence of smoking at the cooking station, the presence of fruit flies and mouse droppings, poor hand-washing and uncovered food, according to the city's report.
Signs on the entrance to the restaurant before noon on Tuesday said the temporary closure was caused by a broken sewer pipe. Several people were in the restaurant's kitchen at the time, but none would talk to a reporter about why the business was closed.
The restaurant passed a health inspection by a state inspector who filled in for Sturgeon, who was unavailable Tuesday, said Clegg. Sturgeon referred all questions about the inspection to Clegg.
Attempts to reach the Wok Inn's owner were unsuccessful. A worker on the night shift said the owner was unavailable because he was on vacation.
An employee who answered the phone Tuesday at the Wok Inn in South Portland said the two restaurants have been under different ownership for almost 20 years.
Clegg said Sapporo had an inspection on Sept. 26 because it changed ownership. After failing, she said, the restaurant took some time to complete renovations and correct the violations before getting an inspection on Oct. 4, and passing.
"It was all very minor stuff," said Libby Powers, a server who spoke on behalf of Sapporo's owner, Akira Matusmara.
Clegg said a cockroach infestation closed The Loft, from Oct. 29 to Oct. 31, and Mekhong Thai, Nov. 7-15.
But Paul Maxwell, whose management company, Maxwell Enterprises, operates The Loft, denied that the restaurant had a cockroach infestation. He said the restaurant was shut down for two days because of unrelated health code violations that a previous operator failed to address.
"There has never been a pest management issue here," Maxwell said. "If there had been one (on Oct. 29) then how could we have reopened two days later?"
But at the adjacent Mekhong Thai, Sturgeon's inspection report, dated Nov. 7, cites "live, active roaches in bulk white rice" and "many dead roaches."
The Thai restaurant passed a city inspection Nov. 15 and owner-chef Tony Nguyen said he has addressed all of the violations cited by Sturgeon. The restaurant now has a pest management company come in once a week.
Nguyen said he upgraded his kitchen, especially the flooring, by sealing cracks, installing new tile and adding new molding.
"We closed and we cleaned up. I want to serve clean, healthy food to my customers," Nguyen said.
In the year after Sturgeon was hired in August 2011, the city inspected 49 restaurants. Thirty-nine of them failed their inspections, six failed initial follow-up inspections and three, including Wok Inn, failed multiple follow-ups, according to reports obtained by the Portland Press Herald through a Freedom of Access request filed in August.
A restaurant can have as many as 13 violations, including three critical, and pass an inspection.
"We are working hard to develop a program that protects both the public health of the community as well as ensures that our local restaurants are supported and thrive," Clegg said Tuesday.
Portland has about 800 restaurants and food carts, and has received national recognition in recent years for its dining scene.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:
A sign on the door of the Wok Inn on Forest Avenue in Portland on Tuesday informed customers the restaurant was closed because of a sewer pipe issue.