Dave’s Sushi in Bozeman quietly reopened Thursday morning after a monthlong closure following a severe food poisoning outbreak that sickened dozens and has been linked to two deaths.
The restaurant reopened to customers at 11 a.m. on Thursday. Around noon, the restaurant was half full. The parking lot was full and several people were coming in to pick up to-go orders.
“We are completely confident in safely reopening for our 90+ staff members and our community,” Dave’s Sushi said in an email to the Chronicle.
“We are grateful to be serving our community again. All those impacted by last month’s events will continue to remain in our hearts and will not be forgotten by our restaurant family here at Dave’s,” the statement said.
The opening comes as health officials continue investigating 50 illnesses, three hospitalizations and two deaths associated with eating at the restaurant between March 28 and April 17. Three lawsuits have been filed against the restaurant in Gallatin County District Court.
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The restaurant told the Chronicle on Thursday it didn’t make a formal announcement before the reopening “out of respect to all who were affected by what happened last month.”
Just after 4 p.m. on Thursday, the restaurant posted about the reopening on social media, with a video from the current and former owner addressing the steps being taken to improve food safety and regain the trust of customers.
“We want to do everything that we can to move forward and keep those affected in our thoughts as we can hopefully rebuild what’s made Dave’s what it is in our community,” owner Aaron Parker said in the video.
Dave’s Sushi closed in mid-April following reports of customers falling ill after eating there. A multi-agency investigation has said the suspected cause was a roll containing salmon and morel mushrooms, but officials have been unable to confirm a specific pathogen or toxin.
Last Wednesday, the Gallatin City-County Health Department rescinded a closure order for the restaurant, saying it could reopen after completing corrective actions.
The corrective actions included providing the health department with standard operating procedures and procedures for addressing biological toxins, completing mandatory training for all food handlers and management staff, and disclosing the names of supervisors and managers.
The restaurant also needs to provide a fresh food inventory and successfully pass required inspections, according to a release about the order.
Documents on the Gallatin City-County Health Department website show Dave’s had two pre-operational inspections this week on Monday and Thursday.
The inspections flagged a handful of risk factors that were corrected on site, according to documents.
Two other risk factors need long-term solutions — fixing a pipe and installing a sink with a floor drain for mops. The restaurant has 90 days to address those problems.
“The facility has installed a temporary wrap to the wastewater pipe that runs over a food storage and prep area in the basement. Please note a long term solution is still needed as discussed with management,” the Thursday inspection report says.
When asked about the outstanding violations, the health department told the Chronicle it would be making unannounced inspections and will follow up on the outstanding items.
Still, “both inspections and the pre-opening corrective actions were met, allowing Dave’s Sushi to re-open to the public,” the health department said.
The opening comes as investigations into the outbreak by county, state and federal health agencies continue and legal challenges are filed.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is assisting Montana health officials with the investigation, wrote in a release last Friday that 44 of the 50 people who fell ill after eating at Dave’s reported eating morel mushrooms. The mushrooms came from a distributor in California.
A sample of the leftover morels served to customers were found to be true morels after being analyzed in a lab, the release said. Some mushrooms look similar to morels and contain known deadly toxins.
“Preparation and storage methods at the restaurant continue to be examined as part of the investigation into the cause of illness,” the FDA release said.
An email from Dave’s pointed to another part of the FDA statement that reads “toxins found in these mushrooms occur naturally, by the fungi themselves, and there is no guarantee of safety even if cooking steps are taken prior to consumption.”
“We hope this newly published information from the FDA provides a heightened level of awareness of the risk of consuming morel mushrooms,” the restaurant said in the email.
Earlier this month, the family of one of the people who died after eating at the restaurant and a person who got sick filed lawsuits against the restaurant. A third lawsuit was filed this week by another patron who fell ill.
Byron Gruber, an attorney for Fraser Stryker Law Firm involved in two of the lawsuits against Dave’s, said the restaurant’s reopening could cause more people to seek legal action against them.
There are people who got sick who may not have come forward yet for whatever reason, Gruber said — people may hear of Dave’s reopening and see that in a negative light.
The illness counts ballooned from under 10 to 50 following the closure as the health department asked people impacted to report their sicknesses.
“The business decision Dave’s made (to reopen) — to me, that looks like making money is more important than being safe,” Gruber said.