They were also closed Saturday and Sunday, before finally reopening after passing a subsequent inspection on Monday, December 4.
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The complaint that was alleged, and affirmed by the health department, stated that the restaurant had been without hot water since Wednesday, November 29. The inspector, who was scheduled to visit Mitchell's on December 4, visited early to investigate the complaint and found seven critical violations that ended with a food safety score for the high-end seafood restaurant of 54.
Under Kentucky law, a food safety score under 60 yields an immediate suspension of the food service permit.
But the closure didn't happen that night without an assist from the Campbell County Attorney's Office, who said that the general manager refused to comply with the health department's order to close after revoking their food service permit.
Campbell County Attorney, Steve Franzen, said that his office was called by The Northern Kentucky Health Department to get his opinion on how to handle the situation, which he termed as "extremely rare."
He said that the general manager's refusal to close was a first in his time as County Attorney and had the manager not complied with the closure, he could have been charged and arrested. Franzen said that Newport Police were standing by.
"When the inspector's order to close was refused, he posted a notice on the front doors stating that Mitchell's was to close and why. When he came back to the restaurant he found that menus were taped up over his notice to obscure the view of that report to the public," said Franzen. "They were in clear violation and the law was pretty clear. I can understand the pressure to stay open on a weekend, but the public needed to be protected in this instance. They had to be shut down."
After closing at around 7:30 p.m on Friday, a scene that employees of the restaurant describe as "chaotic", the doors were locked and employees could be seen cleaning the kitchen area. A sign posted at 9:00 p.m. read, "Unfortunately, Mitchell's is temporarily CLOSED due to Hot Water Boiler issues. We apologize for the inconvenience and look forward to serving you soon."
Dr. Lynne Saddler, District Director of Health, agreed with Franzen's sentiments on protecting the public.
"At NKY Health, our mission is to prevent disease, promote wellness and protect against health threats. One of the many ways that we do this is by working to reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses and ensuring that local restaurants operate within the guidelines of Kentucky's food code. When local food-service establishments are not complying with food guidelines, they are putting public health at risk."
From the inspection report, dated December 1, seven critical violations were noted:
1) Open brick of cream cheese lacking date mark label & expired manufacture use by date -- voluntarily discarded. Pre-made goat cheese balls lacking date mark label -- voluntarily discarded. Crab meat in reach in unit with date mark label exceeding 7 days -- corrected.
2) Tuna salad, sliced american cheese, sour cream, shredded cheddar, heavy cream on top rail of broiler station observed at 50 degrees F - quarantined. Raw salmon, shrimp, cream, cream cheese, white cheddar in bottom of broiler station observed at 64 degree F - quarantined. Smoked onion butter, parsley butter, garlic butter stored at room temperature - quarantined.
3) Observed employee handle ready-to-eat food (slaw & tacos) with bare hands. Handsink at bar area obstructed with drink dump strainer.
4) Critical violations observed, lack of key critical food safety concepts among food handling employees, local requirement for compliance with Certified Food Manager (substitute certification).
5) In use utensils on cook line not wash, rinse, sanitized every 4 hrs as required. High temp dish machine in use, not sanitizing dishwaters - no hot water available. Slicer for produce & cheese observed heavily soiled with food residues.
6) No hot water available at facility - mgmt has been working with maintenance all week on boiler parts (hot water Off/On/Off during week)
7) Multiple "Hot Shot" pest strips observed throughout facility - advised. Sanitizer buckers observed stored on food prep counters/surfaces.
Before this inspection, Mitchell's Fish Market at Newport on the Levee scored a food safety score of 81 on May 9 of this year. The follow up inspection yielded a perfect 100.
Local management declined to make a statement and directed comment to the corporate entity, Landry's Inc., who acquired Mitchell's Fish Market in 2014.
“To ensure food safety, we ceased operations after learning that parts were unavailable for our rooftop water heater," said Howard Cole, Chief Operating Officer, in a statement. "The Newport Health Department gave us clearance to reopen upon the repair of our water heater for lunch on Monday, December 4. We appreciate the patience of our customers and employees as we worked to get this issue resolved.”
Landry's Inc. also owns Morton's Steakhouse, McCormick & Schmick's, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Chart House.
Fort Thomas Matters has learned that the general manager in charge that night at Mitchell's Fish Market has since been terminated from employment.
PHOTO: Mitchell's Fish Market at Newport on the Levee. FTM file.