County health officials have ordered a popular roadside date-shake stand on Coast Highway closed after inspectors found signs that the 44-year-old shack was infested with rats, said Jim Huston, the county's assistant director of environmental health.
The Sunshine Cove stand, on the edge of Crystal Cove State Park, is one of the few remaining roadside snack bars on the highway in the county. It is on property owned by the state, which acquired the land in 1983 from Irvine Co.
Inspectors reported gnawed food boxes and rat droppings on shelves and floors, Huston said. The stand lacked hot water, which also contributed to its closure, he said. The county had received no complaints about the stand, he said. The problems were discovered during a routine inspection.
The state Parks and Recreation Department, from which operator Virginia McKinney of Laguna Beach leases the stand, wants her to install a hot-water heater and rat-proof the shack.
"We're going to have to get her to open up again," said Carlos Toirac, associate analyst for the concession program of the state agency.
McKinney, who has operated the stand for 15 years, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But she has told state officials that it wouldn't make sense for her to make improvements because she may lose her business when the stand's lease is brought up for public bid in February.
McKinney's lease expired on June 30, and she has since operated on a month-to-month agreement with the state. Toirac said the terms of the lease still apply, so McKinney is bound to operate until the end of December.
Ron Schafer, acting superintendent of the state parks agency's Orange Coast District, said it is the operator's responsibility to make the repairs.
Toirac was optimistic that McKinney could resume operations, possibly in a week, and he doubted that they would have to take any legal action. An exterminator has offered to donate services to get rid of the rats, he said.
The successful bidder would be required to make improvements including the repair of service windows and a septic tank, installation of new sink fixtures and a tile floor and expansion of the storage area, in addition to the health department's requirements.