CLEARWATER, Florida - Macaroni Grill is a Italian restaurant chain known for upscale dining and freshly made food.
"I love their bread and oil," said Ali Franklin, who is a self-proclaimed fan of the restaurant. But Franklin said she and her family also have high expectations when it comes to cleanliness and food safety. "I would hope anywhere I go would be clean."
That's why she and other customers of the Macaroni Grill on U.S. 19 in Clearwater were shocked to find out the restaurant received 14 critical violations on an October 1 state inspection by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Among the problems documented by the state were employees not washing their hands and eating while preparing food; all kitchen equipment heavily soiled; temperature violations on the mashed potatoes; and a plumbing system in disrepair.
The inspector also wrote up the discovery of live flies in the kitchen, hundreds of worm-like larva in standing water on the cook line, and two live roaches.
"I am petrified of roaches, so that disgusts me greatly," said Franklin. "I would never eat there if I knew there were roaches and larva in the kitchen."
"It's disgusting," said customer Inna Patskin on her way out of the restaurant. "Now I feel like I want to throw up everything I ate."
We wanted to know if the problems were cleaned up for good, so Friday night we paid the restaurant an unannounced visit. We asked a manager who identified herself as Ann if there was someone we could talk to about the recent health code violations. "You're going to have to leave the property," the manager replied. "If you want to leave your card, I'll have the corporate office call you."
When we asked if the restaurant had the required copy of their inspection report on hand for the public to see, we were also denied. "No. sir... it's in the office ... it's not for you to see right now," the manager said.
We left Friday night without any confirmation problems were corrected.
"I'm assuming they didn't clean it up, so that's why they're afraid to let you in," said customer Inna Patskin.
After our visit, we were contacted by the president and chief executive officer of Macaroni Grill, who said he ordered the restaurant closed until every issue could be corrected after learning of the violations.
Macaroni Grill remained closed until Wednesday morning, when 10 News was invited back for a full tour.
"We take our standards of both health and food safety very seriously," said Vice President of Operations Scott Smith. "We make immediate corrections to make sure we bring them back up to 100 percent."
Smith walked us through the kitchen for an unrestricted, all access tour of where Macaroni Grill's food is prepared. From the dish washing area to the back storage room, we saw every corner of the kitchen. What we found was a near spotless restaurant, so clean even we felt comfortable sticking around for lunch.
As restaurant servers brought out a sampling of Italian creations from the restaurants newly cleaned up kitchen, we sampled a few items for ourselves. 10 News can report, while the food tasted outstanding following our tour, we now feel good about recommending this restaurant based on their cleanliness as well.
Beau Zimmer, 10 News