There seems to be some confusion, judging from recent phone and e-mail inquiries, and a certain amount of speculative rumor circulating within the local foodie community.
Preview: This story has a happy ending. Bottom line: No, the health department did not close owner Mai Pham's iconic Lemon Grass restaurant on Munroe Street in Sacramento due to evidence of rodent infestation.
But, for that reason, it did temporarily close Pham's Lemon Grass Asian Grill & Noodle Bar, and owner Trong Nguyen's La Bou Bakery & Cafe. The two restaurants share facilities inside a building along Howe Avenue in Sacramento
"It's an unfortunate situation that occurred on the La Bou side (of the facility), but we did what we had to do to comply with the health department," said Pham on the phone this afternoon. "The entire building has now been sealed. At no time was the food supply (compromised) or any customers in jeopardy."
Trong phoned to add, "The situation was limited to only one (of 12) La Bou locations. These things happen this time of year, when (inclement) weather causes rodents to (want to) come inside. Everything is cleaned up and the holes are plugged up. We're back in business."
Both restaurants were closed March 12 through March 15 by the Environmental Health Division of the Sacramento County Environmental Management Department. The EHD is responsible for inspecting restaurants and either passing or failing them (or issuing warnings), based on numerous criteria related to hygiene and food safety.
On March 12, environmental health specialist Jason Smalley of the EHD was performing a "routine health inspection" of Lemon Grass Grill and La Bou. His report says, "A live rodent (was) observed under ... refrigerator in sandwich preparation area on the La Bou side of the facility." (Note: The old, unused refrigerator was built in to the wall and required a lot of time and effort to remove.)
"Lemon Grass Grill and La Bou share common food preparation and food storage areas because of the nature of the building they occupy," Smalley said on the phone earlier today.
"During the time of inspection, I found a rodent under one of the pieces of equipment. At that time, the two restaurants took the necessary action and closed the facility until the infestation was abated."
How did a rodent or rodents get inside? "That's for professional pest management to determine," he said. "Once I identify a pest infestation, the health department's stance is (the restaurant) needs to abate it. (The usual scenario is) professional pest management does (the necessary maintenance) to abate the infestation, and then calls us when they're ready for a reinspection. We go back and reinspect the entire facility to make sure it's rodent-free."
A reinspection was conducted March 13 and "rodent droppings" and "possible rodent access points and/or harborage area" were found. The restaurants were resinspected March 16 and reopened.
So the shared space got a passing grade? "Absolutely," said Smiley. "It would not have passed reinspection had it not been spotless."
To see Smalley's reports, go to www.foodinspect.saccounty.net.