CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Popular Charlotte restaurant Cowfish will close for the second time in a week. Mecklenburg County Health Department informed Cowfish more people have come forward with an illness.
Health officials believe the norovirus made at least 50 people sick and shut down Cowfish Grill, the SouthPark restaurant, earlier this week. Three others reported being sick since, and on Wednesday, owners decided to voluntarily close the doors for the remainder of the week. That time will be spent cleaning and sanitizing, all of which will be done by a professional company.
In a statement, Cowfish owner Alan Springate wrote, in part:
We also will continue to work with health officials to be sure we are doing everything possible to protect the health and safety of our guests and employees. We appreciate the support we have received from our guests and the diligence of our staff. Again, we want to express our sincere apology to everybody who has been affected by this regrettable situation.
Although the exact cause isn't known, it's prompting a refresher course in proper hand washing, which is something the restaurant was cited for on its last county health inspection.
The working theory is an employee or customer had the virus and spread it, said Mecklenburg County Medical Director Dr. Stephen Keener.
Keener also says the norovirus could have been inside the restaurant for up to two weeks.
Cowfish Grill voluntarily closed for part of last weekend after employees and customers reported feeling sick with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Those are classic norovirus symptoms experts say can be tied to contaminated food contaminated by fecal matter.
"It can be on anything, the food or any surface, it could be on the utensils," Keener said.
In this case, Cowfish says it doesn't believe the outbreak was food-borne.
The virus is often spread by poor hand washing, including after using the restroom.
"I don't think that this is a case of something where they wantonly or knowingly did something wrong. It's a very difficult thing for food establishments to maintain that kind of discipline," said Keener.
Records show the health department deducted two points from Cowfish's most recent inspection, citing hand washing issues.
Overall, Cowfish Grill got an "A" rating, and has for the last four inspections, records say.
The restaurant sanitized everything in sight before reopening Sunday. Officials say the health department found no threat to customers.
It's enough to earn customer Phillip Mosher's confidence.
"It sounds like they went through the steps to sanitize the place and clean up, make it a good place to go back to eat. I would eat there again."
Cowfish Grill released the following statement late Monday evening:
The Cowfish would like to apologize to our guests and employees for any discomfort or inconvenience they might have experienced as result of the virus that affected our restaurant.
On Friday, after recognizing a problem existed, we immediately closed the restaurant voluntarily and contacted the Mecklenburg County Health Department to ensure we took appropriate action. Over two days, we conducted repeated cleanings to eliminate the virus and continued to work with health inspectors on site before reopening on Sunday.
Anyone who knows The Cowfish, its owners and its staff understands we strive for nothing but the highest standards in every aspect of our operation.
We want to assure the public we have done everything we can to eliminate the virus. Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our guests and employees.