This popular Maine restaurant faces politically charged closure after its staff reports cockroach infestation

The 9-day closure of a prominent Lewiston, ME, restaurant caused such a stir that Food Safety News dug deeper into what happened. Rewinding to last year, it appears that an emerging cockroach infestation disturbed restaurant workers, who attempted to engage with their pest control contractor but discovered it essential to report the health threat to health authorities shortly after the new year.

On January 6, staff informed Maine health officials that the eatery had a cockroach infestation.

In mid-2023, personnel reported roach sightings to Pine State Pest Solutions, the restaurant’s pest control contractor. The DaVinci’s employees claimed they stepped on insects at the restaurant.

Their official complaint was forwarded to the City of Lewiston Sanitarian, Louis Lachance, who discovered an impending health threat from cockroach infestation and requested DaVinci’s voluntary closure to rectify the problem.

Craig Tribuno, DaVinci’s representative, has voluntarily opted to close the restaurant on January 6. It would reopen on January 15.

First, a word on cockroach infestations.

Cockroaches are carriers of sickness and infections. Their shed exoskeletons and feces can cause asthma in even healthy persons, and a large cockroach infestation can be extremely harmful to people.

Cockroaches also leave behind stains and unpleasant odors. If they or their feces come into contact with food, people may get food poisoning-like symptoms severe enough to necessitate hospitalization.

Under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, the City of Lewiston has provided Food Safety News with papers indicating that Davinci’s cockroach infestation existed at least as early as last August. The pest treatment contractor then stated that due to the “amount and location” of the cockroach infestation, an “after-hours” spray was required.

It is unclear from the documents whether this was ever done.

Parker Adams of Pine State is a technician for the pest control company that works with Davinci. He stayed at the restaurant for just over an hour on October 17, 2023, after staff reported bugs. Adams discovered two pests “in the glue boards” and used insecticide. He added the live cockroaches were “physically deformed,” indicating that the spray was effective.

Keith Ellsworth, another Pine Street technician, went to Davinci’s two days later and discovered “no activity in the bait stations.” A single roach was caught on a glue board in the pizza area.

Adams returned on October 23, 2023, and found no evidence of roach activity. He made it a point to “stay on top of this until there are no new sightings by staff for an extended time.”

Ellsworth returned on October 31 and discovered that “1 nymph” had been captured on a glue board. On November 8, Ellsworth discovered a “deformed adult roach” on a glue board near the pizza oven. He also inserted bait in numerous “cracks and crevices”

During an inspection on November 16, Ellsworth discovered two “juveniles” in basement glue boards. He used a gel-based bit and an aerosol insecticide.

A third Pine State tech, Evan Thompson, was at the restaurant on Dec. 15 and saw three dead cockroaches, but noted, “Things are looking very good” and there was “no cockroach activity.”

Ellsworth returned on December 26 and discovered two roaches: one near a pizza oven and one behind a sink. He mentioned that there were some symptoms of “light feeding.”

Ellsworth found no roaches on Jan. 5, 2024, one day before the voluntary shutdown, but a DaVinci staff member claimed to have seen one on the bar.

Ten days later, another Pine Street technician, Ethan Nadeau, spent 16 minutes searching for cockroaches in the structure, “observing no live or dead activity anywhere.” It was DaVinci’s reopening day. He returned on January 17 for 30 minutes and discovered no pest activity.

On Jan. 11, the city’s restaurant inspector, Louis Lachance, issued inspection notes in response to the complaint from January 6. He noted that no person in charge of DaVinci’s was present for the follow-up examination, which revealed no live or dead cockroaches.

LaChance stated that a re-inspection would take place within 30 days of the re-opening, with another follow-up in three months. On January 11, LaChance stated that he could allow the reopening provided professional cleaning and disinfection were done.

The DaVinci’s cockroach infestation and accompanying short-term closure were regular events for any restaurant inspection program, but not for the City of Lewiston.

On March 19, the Lewiston City Council continued to consider firing its experienced restaurant inspector and allowing the state to handle restaurant inspections in the city.

These measures were scheduled to take place at the Jan. 23 meeting. Nonetheless, public comments largely backed LaChance and his supervisor, Dave Hediger, the City’s Planning and Code Enforcement Director, who was ostensibly on administrative leave.

The Lewiston City Council has drafted a letter to Commissioner Jeanne M. Lambrew of Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, canceling the city’s agreement with the state for restaurant inspection services.

A supplemental FY24 budget adjustment has also been created to cancel funding for the Certified Sanitation Inspector/Code Enforcement Officer who performed the restaurant inspections for the remainder of the fiscal year.

That supplemental would punish Lachance, the city’s long-time restaurant inspector who also serves as the sanitation inspector, by abolishing his post and its budget.

Tribuno, DaVinci’s co-owner, admitted a cockroach problem but not an infestation or how disturbed some of his employees were about it.

DaVinci’s failed a 2019 inspection by Lachance. It was not examined in 2023 but passed inspection in early 2022.

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