State inspectors recently shut down three Pasco restaurants, citing roach problems and in the case of one establishment, a rat.
Towne House Pizza, a fixture in Hudson for nearly three decades, was temporarily shut down Dec. 13 after a state inspection turned up 200 old rodent droppings under equipment and on shelves. Inspectors also found a dead rat under a refrigerator by the building's side door.
The report listed 40 violations, including 27 deemed "critical." Critical violations are those that, if not corrected, are more likely to contribute directly to food contamination, illness or environmental damage, according to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
"We generally close for violations that pose an immediate risk to health and or safety, such as (lack of) power, sewage or vermin," said agency spokeswoman Sandi Poreda.
Other findings included live roaches, including five on the floor under the food prep table and five on a wall by a refrigerator, as well as food temperatures that were too high, stored foods that were not marked with dates and "objectionable odors" in a restroom. Flooring also was cited as old, soiled and not easily cleanable.
"We had some issues, and we were addressing those issues," said owner Gary Trapeo, who was also cited for having not renewed his food manager certification by its May 14 expiration date.
He said the restaurant, at 9215 State Road 52, recently had fired its pest control service because he was not satisfied. A new exterminator had just been hired when state officials showed up for a routine inspection.
"There was a rodent, so of course there was poop there," he said.
Trapeo said, and state records confirmed, that the restaurant was allowed to reopen at 11:25 a.m. the next day.
He said the restaurant was about to be remodeled and was closed voluntarily Monday and Tuesday so new flooring could be installed.
At the time of the inspection, he said, "we were pulling stuff out of the kitchen in a matter of weeks."
As for the restroom, he said an exhaust fan in the ladies' room had broken and was replaced that day. He said his food manager certification lapsed because no one from the state reminded him it was time to renew it.
"When it's time to renew your driver's license, they send you a notice," he said. "These are good for five years."
Towne House has been in west Pasco for 27 years. During that time, it was named "best locally owned pizza restaurant" in Pasco County in an informal poll of Tampa Bay Times readers in 1997 and 2007.
Towne House is due for a follow-up inspection within the next 60 days.
It wasn't the only one that was closed for alleged vermin issues. Eight others across the state were closed the same week, including New China Wok in Dunedin and Rain Japanese and Sushi Bar in St. Petersburg, which also had rodent issues, state records said. Another was shut down for a sewage leak, while another closed because it was unlicensed. The other four were closed for roach activity.
A week later, inspectors temporarily closed two more Pasco restaurants, citing roaches.
Kickin' Wing at 8702 SR 52, Hudson, and Top China, at 9135 Little Road, New Port Richey, were closed Dec. 18 and reopened less than 24 hours later.
Inspectors who visited Kickin' Wing reported finding more than 150 dead roaches on floors, prep tables and in boxes of food in addition to live roaches in the kitchen, including two in a box of takeout containers.
Kickin' Wing owner Scott Broshears admitted to a few dead roaches under freezers that were elevated on castors. He said the roaches in the box of containers was the fault of the vendor and the box had been at his place "less than two hours." He said he reported the vendor to state officials.
He accused the inspector of trying to make an example out of his establishment to a trainee.
"He was trying to prove a point that you could write up a restaurant for a million things," he said.
Broshears said other violations, such as sauce lids left open and an employee with an open beverage container in a food prep area, were not valid.
"She was off the clock, drinking a Coke, waiting for her ride," he said, adding that she was not involved in any food preparation.
As for the sauce lids, the sauces were in use as it was the lunch rush, he said. And a rag that was not in a sanitizing solution had just been removed to wipe a counter. Flooring that got cited as too difficult to clean now passed muster just last year.
"We are not a dirty restaurant," he said. "I've been doing this 17 years. I know what hygiene and protocol is." However, he said, "we are a team player" and will cooperate with the state.
Owners of Top China did not return a phone message on Wednesday.
Reports cited them mainly for improper storage containers but did point out 30 rodent droppings on storage shelves, as well as some under the sink and by the door. Inspectors found no rats but did find live roaches under the sink and in freezer gaskets and one sticking out of a freezer door.