CLEARWATER, Fla.- La Hacienda at Drew Street and U.S. 19 is known for serving up authentic Mexican cuisine. But when we visited at the end of 2012, the Clearwater restaurant wasn't serving ANYTHING at all. That's because a state health inspector ordered the restaurant closed after finding 41 violations on three back-to-back inspections over six days in December 2012.
According to state records from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the inspector documented an employee not washing their hands; no soap at the hand sink; the chip warmer soiled with residue; slime in the ice machine and on the inside of soda dispensing nozzles; and the plumbing system in disrepair. The inspector also found live flies in the kitchen and roaches, behind the deli cooler, on the cook's line, and behind bulk food containers.
"It makes me just wanna cook at home," said former customer Mark Van Sluytman. "I don't want to go out. I hate roaches."
In a review of La Hacienda's previous inspections, we found a history of roach activity documented on nearly every report over the past year.
"You go into a place and you have no idea that it's that dirty," said Van Sluytman. "Like it looks clean from where I'm sitting."
On our visit in December, you could see where the state emergency closure sign had been ripped off the window, replaced by a new hand written sign indicating the restaurant was closed for renovations. But some customers feel the state didn't take action soon enough.
"First of all, a restaurant doesn't need that many warnings. If they've got those kind of issues, they just need to be shut down and fixed," said Sean MacLaughlin, who was eating out for dinner nearby.
Since our initial visit back in December, La Hacienda has reopened, so we wanted to see what things looked like now.
Manager Lazaro Montoyoa tells 10 News after last year's problems the restaurant was sold to new owners, and since then everything has changed.
"Everything's new," said an excited Montoyoa, who agreed to take us on a tour of the kitchen.
Behind the kitchen's door, we found no evidence of any insect activity.
"They pressure washed everything ... pest controlled, everything," said Montoyoa.
Other problems including the lack of soap at employee hand sinks were corrected too.
"Oh yeah, we've got soap and paper towels," said Montoyoa.
But a third hand washing sink near the dish washing area in the back was filled with miscellaneous items, a violation of state rules. We also found standing water inside the walk-in cooler and mold covered fruit.
"Some of these probably need to be thrown out here," I explained to restaurant management, holding up a moldy lime before re-washing my hands.
Despite those issues, management says they're working hard to operate their kitchen up to code.
"Things are changed, we have quality food. We try to give our best in everything ... service and food," said Montoyoa.
Customers say they're relieved many of the previous violations were taken care of, but say they'll be keeping a close eye on La Hacienda's future inspections.
"This is the stuff I'm taking down my throat," said customer Trisha Lee as she finished up her meal. "I don't want to eat a roach or anything."
Take a look at La Hacienda Mexican Grill's full state inspection history here.