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Firefly diners sickened by salmonella

Firefly owner John Simmons (FILE PHOTO: BILL HUGHES)
Firefly owner John Simmons (FILE PHOTO: BILL HUGHES)

At first glance, it seems the recent closure of the original Firefly restaurant by the Southern Nevada Health District was just the latest in a rash of closings of prominent restaurants. But on further investigation, it proved to be a lot more serious than just another kitchen racking up over 40 demerits during a routine inspection.

According to SNHD spokesperson Stephanie Bethel, the Health District received “more than 30” complaints last week from people suffering “gastrointestinal illness” after dining at the Firefly location on Paradise Road. They responded by conducting an inspection of the restaurant and its kitchen on Friday, which found violations for improper hand washing; spoiled, contaminated or adulterated food; improper temperatures and storage; and ineffective pest-control measures, among other things. In all, the restaurant received 44 demerits, prompting the SNHD to close the popular tapas eatery indefinitely. In order to re-open, the owners will have to meet with the SNHD, and then pass a re-inspection.

SNHD has now confirmed to CityLife that the agency believes salmonella is responsible for the illnesses. Bethel says the conclusion is “based on patient test results, but not on food tests.”

“We’ve received enough reports from patient testing that we are comfortable saying it’s salmonella,” she continues.  At this point, however, it is still unable to determine which foods may have been contaminated.

Many customers have already shared their unfortunate experience at the restaurant on social media. Ted Fosburgh, who was hospitalized after his meal, told CityLife by e-mail, “Doc just told me I got salmonella [poisoning]. I'm held up at Sunrise Hospital. Haven't eaten in days.” Other posters reported getting sick after eating a wide variety of dishes, including boquerones, lamb skewers, vegetable empanadas and shrimp.

Before posting today that he hasn't received official word from SNHD that salmonella was the cause of the illnesses, owner John Simmons released a statement through Firefly's Facebook page: "We have been a part of this community for 10 years and there is nothing more important than our customers. We are working closely with the Health District to find out what happened — we want to know as much as anyone else. We thank you for your patience and we appreciate all of the support we have received as we go through the process. We take immense pride in the Firefly experience and we will do everything in our power to make it right." 

Firefly currently operates three popular restaurants in the valley, and has been planning to move the Paradise Road outpost just up the street. So can it recover from this news?  That’s hard to say. As reported in CityLife’s April 18 issue, SNHD closures soared in 2012 following the implementation of new regulations. Many of the town’s top restaurants have been quietly closed and quickly re-opened, and seem to have not suffered in popularity. In the vast majority of those cases, however, there were no reports of customers getting sick. Whether people will be as forgiving of a restaurant causing widespread illness remains to be seen.