The Eastlake shopping center where Filippi’s Pizza Grotto, the popular Italian chain restaurant, was approved to reopen Friday after it was forced to close Thursday for a vermin infestation said its center is "as clean" as any facilities in South County.
The company disputes the claim made by Filippi's franchise owner, Robert DePhilippis, that vermin infestation is a known problem for the whole shopping complex.
In a statement to NBC 7, IRE Development, the management company of The District shopping center said none of the tenants at The District has ever had to close because of a failed inspection.
"The tenant’s claim that this is a District-wide concern that’s pervasive throughout The District is 100 percent false," IRE president Michael A. Vogt said in the statement.
According to the county’s Department of Environmental Health (DEH), evidence of rodents was found in several areas of the restaurant on Showroom Place during inspections on Wednesday and Thursday.
Inspectors removed the A rating as a result and ordered the restaurant closed.
On Friday, county health inspectors released a new report clearing the business and allowing it to reopen to customers.
On Wednesday, dried rodent droppings were found in the dry storage area, utensil storage area, the back oven, under a stove and inside the conveyor motor housing underneath the dishwashing machine, according to documents provided by county health inspectors.
Rodent nests were found in the bottom panels of two ovens, inspectors said.
“Also observed over 30 droppings and pungent urine smell inside of front oven #2,” the inspectors said in the health department’s report. The document also states fur and droppings were found near the nests.
The company applied for a re-inspection, saying the facility was deep cleaned.
In the follow-up inspection Thursday, health inspectors report finding dried mouse droppings and two fresh rat droppings in the restaurant’s dry storage on the second floor. The inspector also found dried urine on plastic wrapper of cardboard pizza boxes and gnaw marks through the plastic and into the boxes, according to documents provided by county health inspectors.
The restaurant provided access to pest control records dated April 11, the county said.
County inspectors also suggested fixing doors that were not self-closing either by disrepair or under the direction of building management.
In a statement to NBC 7, DePhilippis said he's been fighting the rodent problem he inherited since taking over the restaurant after his brother's death.
"We have had the 'best of the best' problem-solving pest control companies to aid in this fight, and until the management of this mall joins in ridding this problem from the entire scope of the mall, I am unduly hindered," he said. "Please be confident that my other establishments have no such problem."
DEH Documents obtained by NBC 7 show the restaurant was closed twice last year in December for vermin infestations. Once on Dec. 14 and again two weeks later on Dec. 27.
The restaurant was cited twice this year for vermin, once on Feb. 9 and again on April 12, a week before the restaurant was closed again for vermin infestation.
The health inspector noted in the February report she met with the onsite pest control operator to "discussed treatment schedule and exclusion methods," according to the report.
IRE said it's been proactive in making sure its centers are clean for its tenants and the community. It said it has done everything possible at The District to "seal the building, set out appropriate exterior rat traps and seal any possible opening."
"As landlords, we strive to keep the outside of the building clean and vermin free," Vogt said in the statement. "It is the responsibility of the tenants to control the environment within their four walls."
Lotita's Mexican Food, located next door to Filippi's, has not been cited for vermin, according to DEH records dating back to December 2016.
The DEH characterizes vermin as “active infestation by rodents or vectors that are disease carriers that would likely result in the contamination of food contact surfaces or adulteration of foods and will warrant an immediate closure.”
Vermin is a major violation and, under state law, requires immediate corrective action or closure until compliance is achieved.
See Filippi's most recent health inspection report here.