Another month, another soul-destroyingly disgusting foreign object in some poor unfortunate diner’s food. On Tuesday, Gothamist brought us the story of the Rat Wrap, in which some anonymous guy at a law firm apparently ordered lunch delivered from Chop’t on Pine Street in the Financial District and got an extra party favor, in the form of a whole damn rodent tucked away amongst the lettuce. (It looks like a mouse to us, but we’ll bow to the alliterative superiority of the term “Rat Wrap.”) Two of his colleagues tweeted about the incident, one with a stomach-turning photo, and RatGate was born.
This is, as you might recall, the second story in six months that Gothamist has brought us about horrible food extras: back in December, the same reporter, Nell Casey, got a tip about a frog in someone’s Pret a Manger salad.
There are two possible things at play, here: 1: Gothamist reporter Nell Casey is putting horrible stuff in people’s food for blog material, or 2: Occasionally, an un-fun extra makes its way into even the most innocuous of foodstuffs. For people who let others prepare their food as much as New Yorkers do, these incidents, rare though they are, tap into a deep-seated anxiety about cleanliness.
In the case of the Frog Salad, Pret a Manger issued a statement saying they were “looking into the matter” and didn’t comment further. But Chop’t co-founder Tony Shure seemed stricken by the whole thing, tweeting a series of apologies at the people who tweeted the rat photo, along with his phone number:
@stevenhenderso Oh my God. So sorry. This is an emergency. Please call me at 917-742-7463. – Tony Shure, Founder
— Chop’t Salad (@Chopt) July 8, 2014
@Jcassssss You’re right. We’re trying to get a hold of you and @stevenhenderso. Please contact me at 917-742-7463. – Tony Shure, Founder
— Chop’t Salad (@Chopt) July 8, 2014
Shure did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Voice. It’s still not clear how the rat ended up in the delivery (also not clear how the rat ended up there whole. Those people at Chop’t take their name very seriously. Those salads are pulverized.)
After the media furor started, both people who had tweeted about the rat quickly deleted those tweets, although one of them, Julia Casteleiro, did add this:
believe what you want to – I sure wish I didnt see it. It could have been any place -restaurants need to be inspected more than once a year!
— Julia Casteleiro (@Jcassssss) July 9, 2014
Chop’t also issued two statements on its website, the first saying they’d closed the facility for the day and called the Health Department for an immediate inspection. The second said there was no evidence of “rodent activity” anywhere in the restaurant, adding: “[T]he company is now conducting a thorough investigation to determine the cause of this unfortunate incident.
Reports that a disgruntled employee was involved in this incident are completely false.”
A Health Department spokesperson confirmed that with us via email: “The owners of Chop’t closed the establishment voluntarily and requested an inspection, which was conducted this morning. We found no evidence of vermin or conditions conducive to vermin, and they re-opened.” At lunchtime, as you can see from the above photo, there was, as always, a line out the door.
So what should you do if you face your own rat-in-the-mayo situation? The Health Department would really, really appreciate it if you called 311, in addition to or maybe even before tweeting about the incident: “If a customer finds a foreign object in their food, they should call 311 to file a complaint and alert the restaurant.”
But we know what you’re really thinking, in your innermost heart where bad thoughts live: should you sue? Should you sue for a lot of money? (No one involved in the Chop’t incident has spoken about suing; the person who actually ordered the Rat Wrap hasn’t been identified. We’re only speaking hypothetically here.)
Craig Rosenbaum is an attorney at Rosenbaum & Rosenbaum, a personal injury and medical malpractice firm. He too would recommend calling the Health Department before speed-dialing a lawyer or informing the Internet: “I’d have no problem with someone tweeting this out. But to me it’s more important that these restaurants clean it up a little bit. I mean, we all eat there.”
Rosenbaum is also not sure how effective a lawsuit would be in the case of finding something gross in your food before you consume it, although he stressed that he’d need to know more about the details of a particular incident to know whether someone had a strong case.
“With any lawsuit, you have liability and damages,” he adds. “Liability meaning someone who’s wrong, damages meaning what happened to you. Obviously there’s liability in that an employee allowed a frog, a rat, whatever, to get into the sandwich or salad. But are there damages? Is someone injured? You don’t have a personal injury action unless you’re injured. I’m disgusted, but am I really damaged? That might be for a jury to tell me. If I take a bite and eat the head of a rat and swallow it, I’m clearly more damaged than if I just saw the head of it on my plate.”
We certainly feel damaged just by thinking about it. Let’s all just skip lunch forever.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 10, 2014