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Cafe Santa Fe closes doors: Restaurant could not recover from health violation

Mike Dougherty, Courier Staff

October 26, 2005

Cafe Santa Fe, 17324 Interstate 30 in Benton, closed after business Sunday because of “lack of business and funds to operate,” according to an Oct. 24 note that was left on the restaurant's front door.

Owner Herb Flores said this morning his decision to close resulted as much from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, high gas prices and a drop in the economy as it was the closing of the restaurant May 1 because of a salmonella outbreak.

Flores said Cafe Santa Fe closed three weeks in May when he cooperated with the state Department of Health after the salmonella incident and tested and retrained employees.

“We spent a week cleaning and decontaminating the store,” Flores said, “and then we hired a professional cleaning company to come in and do it again.

“When we reopened, we had not only the cleanest restaurant anywhere, but we also had the safest and the best-trained staff of any restaurant.”

Flores said his family will forever be grateful to the restaurant's many loyal customers for their support as the restaurant began the task of rebuilding its clientele. From 65 to 70 percent of the restaurant's regular customers returned after closing, Flores estimated.

“It was just a matter of not having deep enough pockets to be able to wait until business returned to its previous level,” Flores said today.

“We consider ourselves blessed to be in the situation we are in when some of the hurricane victims have lost loved ones, their homes and all of their belongings. Our heart goes out to those people.

“Our family is so thankful to the many friends, neighbors, customers and employees who have stood by us and supported us as we have prepared food for this community for the past seven years.

“We may or may not re-enter the restaurant business, but we will always be grateful for the support we have received from the community. Also, we have enjoyed being a part of the community and a part of people's lives as they have worked here, eaten here and brought their families here.”

Nine people reported being ill after eating at the restaurant the weekend of April 23-24. Flores was contacted by the Arkansas Department of Health on May 1. Two lawsuits were later filed by people who said they became ill after eating at the restaurant.

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