The 9-day closure of a popular Lewiston, ME, restaurant has created such a kerfuffle that Food Safety News has looked deeper into what happened.  Dialing back to last year, it seems an emerging cockroach infestation concerned restaurant staff who tried working with their pest control contractor but found it necessary to report the health hazard to health authorities shortly after the first of the year.

Staff reported on Jan. 6 to Maine health officials that there was a cockroach infestation at the restaurant. 

In mid-2023, staff had reported the roach sightings to Pine State Pest Solutions, the restaurant’s contractor, for handling infestations. The DaVinci’s staff members said they were stepping on cockroaches at the restaurant. 

Their official complaint went to the City of Lewiston Sanitarian Louis Lachance, who found an imminent health hazard for cockroach infestation and asked for DaVinci’s voluntary closure to correct the hazard.  

DaVinci’s representative, Craig Tribuno, voluntarily agreed to close the restaurant on Jan. 6. It would re-open on Jan. 15.

First, a word about cockroach infestations.

Cockroaches are harbingers of disease and pathogens. Their shed exoskeletons and feces can trigger asthma in otherwise healthy people, and a significant cockroach infestation can be incredibly unhealthy for people.

Roaches also leave behind stains and bad smells. If they, or their waste, come into contact with food, humans can develop food poisoning-like symptoms that may become severe enough to require hospitalization.

Under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, the City of Lewiston has provided Food Safety News with documents that show Davinci’s cockroach issue was a problem by at least last August.  Then, its pest control contractor said the “amount and location” of cockroach infestation meant an “after-hours” spray was required.

It is not clear from the documents if that was ever done.

Pine State’s Parker Adams is a technician for the pest control company servicing Davinci’s.  He spent just over one hour at the restaurant on Oct. 17, 2023, after restaurant staff reported cockroaches. Adams found two pests “in the glue boards” and applied insecticide.  He said the live cockroaches were “physically deformed,” which is a sign the spray is working.

Keith Ellsworth, another Pine Street tech, visited Davinci’s two days later and found no “no activity in the bait stations.”  One roach was caught on a glue board in the pizza area.  

Adams returned on Oct. 23, 2023, finding no signs of roach activity.  He promised to “stay on top of this until there are no new sightings  by staff for an extended time.”

Ellsworth was back on Oct.31, finding that “1 nymph “ was captured on a glue board.  On Nov. 8,  Ellsworth reported finding one “deformed adult roach” in a glue board near the pizza oven.  He also added bait in various “cracks and crevices”

In a checkup on Nov. 16, Ellsworth found two “juveniles”  in basement glue boards.  He applied a gel-based bit and aerosol pesticide.

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

Ellsworth returned on Dec. 26, finding two roaches, one near a pizza oven and one under a sink. He said there were some signs of “light feeding.”

On Jan. 5, 2024 — one day before the voluntary closure — Ellsworth found no roaches but did say a DaVinci staff member reported seeing one on the bar.  

Ten days later, another Pine Street tech, Ethan Nadeau, looked for cockroaches in the building for 16 minutes, ”observing no live or dead activity anywhere.”  It was re-opening day for DaVinci’s. He returned on Jan. 17 for 30 minutes, finding no pest activity.

Louis Lachance, the city’s restaurant inspector,  followed up on the Jan. 6 complaint on Jan. 11, with inspection notes.  He reported no Person in Charge for DaVinci’s was present for the follow-up inspection, at which no live or dead cockroaches were observed.

LaChance said there would be a re-inspection within 30 days of the re-opening and another follow-up within three months.  On Jan. 11, LaChance said he could approve the re-opening once professional cleaning and disinfection is completed.

The DaVinci’s cockroach infestation and subsequent short-term closure were routine events for any restaurant inspection program, but they’ve been anything but routine for the City of Lewiston.   

The Lewiston City Council on March 19 is still looking at firing its veteran restaurant inspector and letting the state take over restaurant inspections in the city.  

Those actions were to have occurred at the Jan. 23 meeting. Still, public comments overwhelmingly supported LaChance and his boss, Dave Hediger, the City’s Planning and Code Enforcement Director, who was putatively 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, terminating the city’s agreement with the state for city inspection services of restaurants within the city.

Also drafted is a supplemental FY24 budget adjustment to rescind the funding for the Certified Sanitation Inspector/Code Enforcement Officer who did those restaurant inspections for the remainder of the fiscal year.

That supplemental would punish Lachance, the city’s long-time restaurant inspector who holds the sanitation inspector position, by eliminating his position and its funding.

Tribuno, DaVinci’s co-owner, acknowledged a cockroach issue but not infestation or how concerned some of his staff were about it.  

DaVinci’s failed a 2019 inspection conducted by Lachance.  It was not inspected in 2023 but did pass inspection early in 2022.

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