Cambridge health officials have ordered the owners of Shepard Restaurant & Bar in Cambridge to immediately stop using charcoal and wood for cooking following complaints from neighbors that smoke was seeping into their homes and affecting their health.
In a decision released Monday, Cambridge health commissioner Patrick Wardell said the restaurant’s use of wood and charcoal as a cooking source and the smoke and odors emanating from its exhaust stack “have caused a condition of nuisance which is injurious to the public health.”
Wardell acknowledged that Shepard’s owners, Rene Becker and Susan Regis, have tried to mitigate the problem — including by installing a vent scrubber system to filter particulates — but that the smoke is still an issue.
“Smoke and odors from the restaurant continue to enter into the neighbors’ homes, causing or exacerbating the health problems of several neighbors,” Wardell said in the decision.
Becker said Monday that he is waiting to hear back from his attorney and declined to comment on his next steps. In the meantime, Shepard will be open as usual, but the food will be cooked with gas.
“We’ll have delicious food to serve,” Becker said. “It’ll be business as usual.”
Shepard opened two years ago in the spot long occupied by French restaurant Chez Henri. It’s gained a devoted following and earned accolades for its food, much of which is infused with flavors from its signature wood-fired oven and grill.
But a group of Shepard Street residents have complained that smoke exhaust has been a problem since the beginning, forcing some to keep their windows closed at all times. One couple who lived next door to the restaurant said they accelerated up a planned move from the neighborhood because of the smoke.
Becker and Regis responded to the complaints by changing the type of wood they burn to one that produces less smoke, more frequently substituted charcoal for wood, and spent more than $100,000 on equipment to reduce the smoke coming from its vents.
Becker has previously said that being barred from cooking with wood could force the restaurant’s closing.
Last fall, Cambridge city councilors discussed forbidding restaurants from using wood-fired ovens and grills. That drew sharp criticism from restaurateurs, including chef Andy Husbands, of the Smoke Shop BBQ in Kendall Square, and Tom Brush, co-owner of Felipe’s Taqueria in Harvard Square. They told officials that a ban on wood, or a mandate to use expensive scrubbers, would create a crushing financial burden for some restaurants.