September 28, 2012

After infestation, Portland rushed restaurant reopenings

The inspector saw serious problems and the state wanted a 'deep cleaning' done, but the Porthole got the OK after two days.

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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The Porthole restaurant, the Comedy Connection nightclub and the Harbour’s Edge banquet hall, all on Custom House Wharf, were shut down Sept. 14 by a Portland health inspector who said she found a rat “infestation,” flies on food, drains leading into the ocean and other violations.

Press Herald file photo/Gabe Souza

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Sturgeon agreed.

"By the timing of this, the food must have already been on the boat, as we were there then," Sturgeon said.

Gardner emailed Sturgeon that night, expressing hope that Keithly would "kick butt in there tonight and get most of the stuff corrected" and pass inspection the next day.

Sturgeon replied, "I thought I was an optimist. ... I bow to you on that title," punctuating it with a smiley face.

In a separate email earlier that evening, Sturgeon expressed concern about how the state would react to the city giving Keithly verbal permission to cook in the Porthole, especially if Roy, who heads the state inspections division, found out from the tipster.

"She's going to go bananas," Sturgeon wrote.

Roy said in an interview last week that the city should not have allowed any cooking in a kitchen that had been closed because it was deemed an imminent health hazard.

"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.

Roy said state officials would meet with Portland officials to discuss how the incident was handled. Gardner said Thursday that that conversation has not yet occurred.

If given the chance to do it all again, Gardner said, he would have allowed Keithly to cook the meal.

Sturgeon cleared the restaurant to reopen on Sept. 15, after the Porthole's staff cleaned the kitchen. But the state expressed concern that a "deep cleaning" had not yet been done.

"I am concerned regarding the cleaning company that is due to come in for deep cleaning and why this was not done before they were allowed to open," Roy said in an email to Gardner dated Sept. 17. "This is typically the procedure that the establishment is asked to clean before they reopen."

Gardner acknowledged in an email to City Manger Mark Rees on Sept. 19 that missteps had been made.

"I hope to learn from those missteps so that future situations don't 'explode' like this one did," he wrote.

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

Twitter: @randybillings

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