APOLLO BEACH, Florida— If you like seafood and being by the water, customers say it doesn't get much better than Circles Bar and Grill in Apollo Beach.
"It's a really decent place. I'd call it a five-star restaurant, that's for sure," said customer Cody Besnier. "I get the fried grouper sandwich actually. The grouper is a pretty big thing down here."
But fresh seafood isn't the only thing a state health inspector reported finding inside the kitchen. Circles Bar and Grill was written up with 39 violations, 12 of those high priority on the restaurant's July 11th inspection. The issues were so severe the state ordered an emergency closure after finding small flying insects inside the kitchen and live roaches under the cook line and in the dish room. There were also temperature violations with the cheese, milk, creamer, blue cheese dressing, tartar sauce and hard-boiled eggs held a few degrees above the safe temperature threshold found between 42 and 43 degrees.
"I'm surprised honestly because it's a really clean restaurant on the inside," said Besnier when 10 News shared the news with him about the restaurant's emergency closure. "I wouldn't think of anything like that could be in there."
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The restaurant was allowed to reopen just a few hours after its emergency closure with 16 remaining violations. 10 News stopped in a week later checking to see if conditions had improved.
But when 10 News asked to speak with the person in charge of the restaurant, an employee held her hand in front of the camera and said she was unable to speak with us.
"I can call my owner. ... I'll call him for you if you'd like to step out," said the unidentified employee.
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Within seconds of arriving, we were kicked out of the restaurant. When we asked for a copy of the restaurant's latest inspection report, something every restaurant is required by law to have on hand, the manager threatened to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
10 News then brought its own copy of the report and showed it to customers.
"I would recommend it to other people, but now seeing this … it's a mind changer," said Besnier.
Documents obtained by 10 News show health inspectors entered the restaurant investigating an anonymous complaint the restaurant was advertising "fresh grouper" but was instead allegedly serving a different type of fish. 10 News took a sample of grouper sandwich purchased from Circles Bar & Grill to the University of South Florida for DNA analysis. Two independent tests confirmed the fish 10 News was sold was in fact red grouper.
Circles Bar & Grill did declined an invitation from 10 News to speak on camera but did send us the following written statement:
Circles has been proudly serving customers in Apollo Beach for over 15 years, and up until last week we have always received passing grades on all of our health inspection reports. During the July 11 inspection we failed to meet the high standards we set for ourselves. Most of the items in the report were fixed immediately while the health inspector was on site. For the other violations, we have gone through a very meticulous process and corrected everything. We were re-inspected, passed our inspection, and back open for business two hours later on the very same day. From this point forward, we are choosing to look at this unfortunate experience in a positive light, and using it as an opportunity to improve. We look forward to continuing to serve our customers great food in a great environment.
- Vic Granowicz, Owner