If all goes well with two more water tests by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation this week, River Drifters Bar & Grill plans to open late Thursday or Friday, said owner Charlie Eich.
A total of 105 people have reported illnesses to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department after eating at the new restaurant on Suck Creek Road, said health department spokesman Tom Bodkin. Ninety five of those who reported getting sick were patrons and 10 were employees, including the owners. One woman who got sick after eating at River Drifters has even filed a lawsuit against the restaurant.
The official count could still grow as the department continues its investigation. At least some of those who reported signs of illness tested positive for norovirus and E. coli, and two tests came back positive for E. coli, with a third testing probable.
The department has not officially determined the cause of the illnesses, but the restaurant owners believe they were caused when a well collapsed. Bodkin said health inspectors have not seen a restaurant in Hamilton County on well water in decades, so they assumed the restaurant was on the city water system when they initially visited it before its opening in July.
Bodkin said the owner also did not tell the inspector that they were on well water.
"Moving forward, our inspectors will specifically ask what is an establishment's water source," he said.
The Eichs are leasing the restaurant space from the property owner, and Eich said the property owner split the cost for a new well and water filtration system.
Eich said everything in the restaurant has been sanitized several times, and the owners most likely will hold a reopening celebration at the end of August or early September. For updates, visit their Facebook page.
"Thank you for the outpouring of support and well wishes," Eich said. "The Eich family greatly appreciates you."
Contact staff writer Allison Shirk at email@example.com, @Allison_Shirk or 423-757-6651.