County inspectors found during a March 31 visit that floor repairs had not been carried out at Le Cave’s, 1219 S. Sixth Ave.

Courtesy Pima County Health Department

Pima County has filed suit against the popular south-side bakery Le Cave’s, asking that it be shut down after failing five health department inspections between December and March.

In the suit, the county asks Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Bergin for a “permanent injunction” shuttering the doughnut shop until it comes into compliance with the county’s food code. If it fails to do so, Arizona law allows for daily penalties of up to $1,000, according to documents filed Monday.

The failed inspections were not routine visits, but change-of-owner inspections triggered after the bakery, at 1219 S. Sixth Ave., lost its permit late last year after missing payment deadlines. Since a new health code was adopted in April 2016, restaurants that lose their permits are required to requalify for them, and Le Cave’s has so far failed to do so.

Operating a restaurant without a permit is a Class 3 misdemeanor in Arizona, according to a demand letter sent to Le Cave’s by the county attorney on March 1 and obtained by the Star.

After the first requalifying inspection in December, the county noted 11 deficiencies, most of which were resolved. The most significant remaining issue is the aging building’s floor, which recent photos show to be cracked and potholed in many areas.

The most recent inspection, conducted on March 31, found that “no work” had been done on the floors since a February inspection. A display cooler was also not keeping baked goods at established temperatures.

Owner Rudy Molina Jr. downplayed the significance of the filing, saying the “county is doing what they have to do.” He previously told the Star that the floor’s problems are a “structural issue,” and are not a health threat to patrons. He also noted that the bakery had passed a routine inspection in June 2016 with the floors in comparable condition.

He said he’s working on getting “state of the art” flooring for the bakery, which isn’t “going anywhere.”

“People think that we're closed. We’re still open for business,” he added.

Inspection chief David Ludwig disagreed that the floor presents no health risks to customers, pointing out that their condition makes proper cleaning difficult.

“It’s not cleanable, you can’t sanitize it, it holds water, it allows things to grow,” he added. “You’ve got water, you’ve got temperature … you’re going to have bacteria.”

Ludwig acknowledged that Le Cave’s passed a routine inspection last summer. However, deficiencies in the floor were one of the violations noted, and if enough of those violations accumulated in later inspections, the bakery would have eventually received a failing probationary rating. Without fixing the floor, it would have likely failed follow-ups until the county decided to file suit, according to Ludwig.

Suing restaurants over compliance issues is a relatively rare step. Ludwig said he hopes Le Cave’s, which he described as “historic,” comes into compliance. If it does so before the suit’s first hearing, which usually occurs within a month, he said his office would gladly push to drop the case.

“We’d rather not have to go to court,” Ludwig said.

Contact: mwoodhouse@tucson.com or 573-4235. On Twitter: @murphywoodhouse