State Shutters Iconic Maui Restaurant

There’s no doubt about the fact that Hawaii restaurants are struggling in multiple ways. As a result, many have shuttered, primarily due to financial and staffing issues. But this closure came a big surprise, especially given its high rating across review websites, and it was caused by neither of the above.

 Department of Health Closes Cafe Mambo in Paia Maui

The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) issued a red “Closed” placard to Café Mambo to protect public health. — Hawaii DOH.

The DOH said that Cafe Mambo is to remain closed pending all violations being resolved, at which point the DOH will allow the restaurant to reopen. You may recall that last summer, the venerated Lahaina Fish Co. on Maui was also among those shuttered by the state.

The violations occurred during the routine inspection, which occurred on March 14, 2023. The DOH observed both critical and non-critical food safety violations that included:

  • Roaches throughout the facility.
  • The kitchen doorway was noted for flies and other pests.
  • Lack of proper temperature control for cold food storage.

In order to remediate the issues, the DOH said the following actions are required:

  • Professional pest control treatment to eradicate pests.
  • Pest service invoices provided to the district inspector.
  • Deep cleaning to eliminate all potential pest food sources.
  • Screening at the kitchen doorway to reduce pest entry when the door is left open.

A follow-up inspection is scheduled for tomorrow, March 17, 2023.

This is a very serious situation. Others have gone even further in alleging rodents (though not mentioned by DOH), and especially food storage violations. A few years ago BOH editors Jeff and Rob both got food poisoning at a Kauai restaurant that was apparently a result of tartar sauce being re-refrigerated after being left at room temperature. That restaurant, no longer in business, was also cited by the Department of Health.

Excellent customer reviews of Cafe Mambo.

The reviews across multiple websites, including TripAdvisor, OpenTable, and Yelp, were very favorable, with 4-5 stars. The staff was rated as friendly, and people loved their duck fajitas among other things. For the most part, the only negatives noted were noise, slow service, and location. Strangely, one person long ago did comment that there was a worm in their food.

Here’s a sample recent review, which wasn’t unusual in commending the restaurant: “Excellent meal, our party of 6 were seated and served quickly. I had the Crispy Duck fajitas that were outstanding. Others in my party had the shrimp special which they loved. High ranking for the duck burger and onion rings. Come hungry, the servings are generous.”

Another recent comment said interestingly that in spite of the Health Department’s actions, it “still gets my four stars because I personally have never had an issue, and actually always enjoyed the restaurant and it’s menu in years past. Quick, unique, and flavorful. I just hate that they had to violate food safety and have an overall lack of concern and care for their customers safety… So, at the end of the day, good food, horrible management, but the actual restaurant itself deserves four stars.”

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