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Restaurant closed, then reopened, after problem with drainage pipe

Lone Star Steakhouse reopened Friday afternoon, about 21 hours after being ordered to shut down because of a sewage backup problem in the kitchen.

The problem began Oct. 24, when sewage backed up in the kitchen drains. Lone Star called in ABC Septic to clean out the grease trap and sewage drains, but the problem persisted.

On Thursday at 6:20 p.m. an inspector with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation ordered the restaurant to be temporarily closed. The department was responding to complaints it received from restaurant employees.

State inspectors allowed the restaurant to reopen about 3 p.m. Friday.

"There was an obstruction in the line," said John White, spokesman for Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon. "We have people who worked all night to remedy the problems."

The culprit: a drainage pipe clogged with silverware and napkins, said Dave Fountain, spokesman for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

"Our inspectors have been out there, and they have cleared them for operation," he said. "There was no contaminated food."

It is not uncommon for the department to shut down restaurants in cases where sewage is backing up, Fountain said.

Typically, clogged drains occur when restaurants don't keep their grease traps and sewage drains clean, Fountain said.

"This was kind of unusual," he said.

State inspectors will decide whether Lone Star will be fined, he said.

Though rare, sewage backup problems have occurred at some other Lone Star sites, White said. "Sometimes our customers push things down the toilet," he said.

Asked why the company did not voluntarily close its restaurant earlier, White said: "I guess it wasn't bad enough to need that kind of action."

White said he did not know why employees had reported the problem to the state. "I have no knowledge of that," he said.

The sewage that overflowed at the Port Richey Lone Star came from the kitchen, not the restaurant's toilets, Fountain said.

Lone Star, based in Wichita, Kan., has 274 restaurants nationwide. The company opened the Port Richey restaurant in late 1994 after buying all nine of the Florida Bill Knapp's restaurants.