NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Many visitors met with a "closed for cleaning" sign after a viral video showed rats scurrying around inside the French Market Restaurant on Decatur Street. Just months before, state health department inspectors issued infractions at that same restaurant.
The health department didn't force the restaurant to close. Instead, the owners notified the department they were closing voluntarily. But for many, the video has done a lot of damage.
Eric and Adrianne Browning were surprised when they learned that the French Market Restaurant and Bar was the one they saw on the screen.
"We were watching the news and saw a lot of rats, but I didn't know it was that was the place until we saw a sign that said 'closed for cleaning and repairs,'" said Eric.
The restaurant closed for business Wednesday, citing cleaning and repairs. But health inspectors were at the restaurant two months ago. The March 28th inspection had five critical infractions, including some food temperature and labeling problems that were corrected on site. Inspectors also found flies, but no rodents.
On a check-up inspection in April, inspectors didn't find any flies, and the restaurant provided a pest control invoice. And because in the eyes of the inspectors they had fixed the issues, they avoided a $150 fee.
Claudia Riegel, New Orleans director of the Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board, says they do what they can to exterminate rodents throughout the year and during busy seasons, but in a port city like New Orleans, rats are common.
"One of the things that we do in the French Quarter is that we go through several times a year and we bait every single storm drain in the Quarter," she said. "So we do focus even more on places like Bourbon Street or Decatur, Canal - places where it's very heavy business focus."
There's already a system of tunnels and pipes under the city that rodents can travel, but it only takes a hole the size of a quarter for a rodent to pass through. As long as their skull can fit through, their entire body can get through, so keeping them out is almost impossible.
Loyola University environmental professor Bob Thomas says rats are common, but they're still a health hazard.
"The problem is they eat anything, and they move through the sewers, they move through the gutters, and they move through unhealthy places and they carry bacteria and stuff like that, and that's what disconcerting because you don't know what you've been exposed to," Thomas said.
For some visitors, the rats are enough to keep them away from the restaurant.
"Hopefully they'll get past this and maybe when they're finished with their maintenance things will be better," Browning says.
When the French Market Restaurant reopens, it will have to contact the health department for a reopening inspection.
The restaurant did not offer any comment.