Saturday, May 25, 2013 | 12:50 a.m.
A feeling of apprehension consumed Firefly Tapas Kitchen & Bar owners Tabitha and John Simmons moments before it opened the doors to its new location on Paradise Road on Friday.
Almost a month prior, the restaurant’s old location was shut down by health inspectors after a major salmonella outbreak sickened 294 patrons. The restaurant may have moved only a couple of blocks to its new location, but they wondered, would the customers follow?
Tabitha Simmons knows the question can’t be fully answered on Friday, but the results have calmed her fears for the time being. In the first three hours of opening, nearly 90 patrons dined at the restaurant, ordering plates of tapas and glasses of red sangria just like they always had.
Still, many of the diners were regulars of the restaurant before it closed. Simmons understands the average consumer’s trust has been shaken after the devastating outbreak. Friday was the beginning of a fresh start to earn the customer’s trust again.
“We were nervous, what was going to be a very exciting thing has been influenced by what’s gone on the last couple weeks,” Tabitha Simmons said. “We wanted to take this moment to shine and impress and put our best foot forward.”
Before Firefly was ready to reopen its doors, the Simmons made sure to take added health precautions to prevent another outbreak and ensure their customers feel safe eating at the restaurant.
Last month, the outbreak appeared to originate in cooked chorizo, according to Southern Nevada Health District inspectors. The genetic fingerprint from the salmonella found in the chorizo had not been found anywhere else in the country, suggesting that it originated at the restaurant.
They added a food safety expert with over 25 years experience, use only certified managers and chefs to handle food, conducted food safety training for all employees, and instituted a program to monitor the safety of food.
Customer Jerry Turner knew about the outbreak, but came to the restaurant anyway. He sat at the bar with his next-door neighbor munching on a plate of lamb and drinking a glass of red wine. He’s already worked his way through a plate of tuna tartare and camarones al ajillo. He has no fear of another salmonella outbreak.
This is his favorite restaurant; he comes at least twice a month. When he heard the restaurant was reopening on Friday, he knew he had to be there in support. Besides, he figured with the restaurant's increase in safety precautions, there might not be a safer place to eat in America on Friday.
Still, the nine other neighbors he asked to join him didn’t see it that way.
“I didn’t go so far as to order the chorizo, but of any diner in the world, this is the safest time to eat anything you can order tonight,” Turner said.
Across the bar, Barbara Dahl, Wendy Kaufman and Becky Watson chat and laugh during their usual girls' night out outings. They almost always host it at Firefly and eat there two times per month. They were excited to return to their old haunt, even if it is in a new place.
“I told all my friends to come,” Dahl said. “Some had plans, but no one seemed concerned.”
Longtime patron and friend of the Simmons, Heather Vanek has so much trust in the restaurant, she brought her 9- and 11-year-old kids. The family ate their usual stuffed dates, ribs, sliders and french fries.
In all, the turnout has been a pleasant reaffirmation for Tabitha Simmons. Still, on an average night the restaurant was serving 1,000 people. She knows it will take time to earn back the average patron, but until then, they plan to take it one dinner at a time to regain the patron’s trust.
“We will never forget what happened,” Simmons said. “It will always be above us when we operate our restaurants.”