NEWPORT, Ky. – Don Pablo's riverfront restaurant closed because owners didn't want to make necessary building repairs, an NKY health department official says.
Restaurant owners didn’t want to invest in upgrades required by building inspectors, according to Emily Wherle, spokesperson for the Northern Kentucky Health Department.
They weren't ordered to close by the health department, Wherle told WCPO.
"It wasn’t a decision on our part to close the facility," she said.
The Newport housing inspector had placed a "condemned" sign on the building, saying it was unfit for human occupancy. It's a structural issue, the inspector says.
Health inspection reports had improved since a critical complaint in May that 14 co-workers had gotten sick from a catered lunch, forcing the business to shut down for the day. That report scored the restaurant a 71.
In July, there was a complaint that a restroom stall hadn't been repaired for a month. But the restaurant's overall score was a solid 94.
Four days later, a follow-up report said the restaurant was "completely clean."
“There have been some problems down there for a structural standpoint because a while back they had to close off their patio area,” Jack Moreland, president of SouthBank Partners, said Wednesday.
That happened in 2013. A spokesperson for Rita Restaurant Corp., which owns and operates the national restaurant chain, said at the time that a routine building inspection found issues with the structural integrity of one corner of the restaurant's deck, specifically the condition of a steel beam.
"We were advised by the structural engineer that the deck was safe for continued use, with the exception of a small area, which was immediately blocked off," the spokesperson told WCPO.
The restaurant was temporarily closed to fix the issues, then re-opened.
Moreland doesn't expect the building to be empty for long.
“There’s a lot of attractiveness of the area for tourists as well as local residents - millennial folks - and so we think that makes a good opportunity,” he said.
An 11-mile biking and walking trail from Fort Thomas to Ludlow as well as a new connecting route to downtown Cincinnati are just a few ways the company says they plan to make use of the 75 acres of Newport’s developable land.
“I think we’re at that critical mass now where there is a lot happening on both sides of the river and it’s exciting," Moreland said.