First posted to Facebook on Wednesday, the video soon made the hyper-jump to Twitter and Instagram, where it has been watched thousands of times. Hundreds of thousands of times, in fact. Fox 5 ran a story on the video, too. Viewers all saw the same jaw-dropping spectacle: a carnival of rats scurrying across the floor, presumably in recent days at Dupont Pizza. By my unofficial count, there were at least 16 rodents having a hoedown inside the shop.
The outrage machine quickly went into overdrive, and the video eventually made its way to the D.C. Health Department, which sent an inspector to Dupont Pizza on Thursday. The inspector dinged the shop for a handful of mostly minor violations, including no soap or paper towels at the hand-washing sink, a dirty can opener and “two dead roaches,” according to the inspection report.
“There were no indications of rat droppings or anything inside the establishment,” said Alison Reeves, a spokeswoman for the health department.
Still, inspectors shut down Dupont Pizza for, according to the report, “no hot water and operating a food establishment with circumstances that may endanger public health.” Sarica was on the phone with health officials on Friday, trying to arrange a follow-up inspection so that he could reopen his business. (The inspector arrived Friday afternoon, and Dupont Pizza is back in business.)
He was also pressing his case that he’s the victim of revenge. On Monday, Sarica said, he fired an employee. On Tuesday, the fired employee received his last check from the pizzeria. On Wednesday, the video started making the rounds on social media. The video’s first posting may have come from someone related to, or close to, the fired employee, Sarica said. The woman who posted the video to Facebook on Wednesday added this note: “I was just sent this from the now former manager of DUPONT PIZZA in P st DC next to Subways. Please do not go here He is telling me to spread the word about this!!”
Sarica, who singled out this video as the first to hit social media, said that the poster erroneously called the fired employee a “manager.” He was not. The poster also did not respond to a pair of interview requests sent via Messenger.
“He took it as an opportunity to start something,” said Sarica about the fired employee. “It’s something like evil.”
The owner said the video dates back at least three years, and maybe longer. Someone connected to the fired employee sent what appears to be the original video to Sarica, who showed it to me on his phone: It has a dateline of July 2, 2016, which may or may not be when it was actually recorded.
Sarica said that, yes, the shop did have troubles with rats years ago, though he said he never saw the rodents personally. But he said he pays a pest control service to sweep his premises monthly. He showed me the work orders and invoices on his phone. His last few D.C. Health Department inspection reports also show no violations for rat droppings or any sign of an infestation.
“To be honest, D.C. has always had rat problems,” Sarica said. “The thing is how you control them.”
If he had something to hide, the owner said, he would have closed the doors once the video reached peak outrage on Thursday. But he didn’t. He remained open to “explain what happened, as much as we can.” He also knew that the health department would come knocking, and he wanted to prove his case to the inspector.
Sarica declined to say how much business he’s lost. He’s more worried about losing something bigger: his reputation. “I believe the trust with the public and the customers is more important than the business,” he said.
The pizza shop owner said he’s going to talk to his attorney about litigation against the former employee. Does the shop owner have a case?
David Cashdan, a partner at the firm Cashdan and Kane, said he wasn’t up to date on Washington defamation law, but he noted that there’s nothing illegal about registering a complaint with the health department, if in fact inspectors first learned about the case from the fired employee. But a person who disseminates false or misleading videos on social media could be liable to charges of slander, defamation or business interference.
“There may be value in a business owner’s fighting back whether there’s a legal grounding or not,” Cashdan added.
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