What to Know
- Employees at an upper Manhattan Chipotle said they were overrun by rats that ate produce, bit them and chewed through the restaurant's digital ordering system
- The employees accuse the chain of failing to act until a general manager was bitten in late November, weeks after they first raised the issue
- Chipotle says it takes employee and patron safety seriously and is working with the building's landlord to make fixes before reopening
A hungry horde of rats overtook an upper Manhattan Chipotle last month, forcing the burrito chain to temporarily close the location after employees say they were forced to take matters into their own hands to try to beat back the infestation.
At least four workers at the Washington Heights restaurant say they were bitten by rats in the last few months, even as the location continued to serve patrons. In a news release, several workers accused Chipotle of failing to act on the infestation, and that they had to swat at and stomp on the rodents to keep them at bay.
“There was panic among all the workers in the store, we were all worried about the rats," said employee Melvin Pavino. "We’d see rat chew marks on avocados and it grossed me out."
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Chipotle, in a statement, said that the restaurant had been closed since Nov. 23 and blamed the pests on adjoining restaurants on the stretch of Broadway between 168th and 169th streets, near Columbia University Medical Center.
Employees say they began reporting the issue to the company in October, but the company didn't take action until weeks later, after one crew member and the location's general manager were bitten over the course of three days in late November.
"We told the manager that the rat problem was getting worse and worse," said worker Luis Gustavo Paulino Ruiz. "Workers had to chase the rats and try to kill them. I killed two rats with a stick."
He added, "it was terrifying."
The restaurant was first shuttered after the GM was bitten on Nov. 23. Employees were then told to do a deep cleaning of the restaurant while an exterminator laid traps. A second employee was bitten in the process.
The store reopened on Nov. 28, but employees said the rats were still there. It closed again two days later after rats chewed through the wiring for the restaurant's digital ordering system. The store has remained closed, but workers say a fourth employee was bitten late last week while trying to clean the store.
"It felt like the company didn’t value us as people, they only cared about their own profits," said Paulino Ruiz.
A spokeswoman for the restaurant disputed that characterization, however.
"The health and safety of our employees and guests is our top priority," said Laurie Schalow, a spokeswoman for Chipotle.
Schalow said the store remains closed and that the company is working with the landlord to "ensure improvements are made before reopening."
The location has an "A" rating from the city Department of Health, but it had been cited four times for not being vermin-proof, including as recently as Sept 30, 2019.
The Health Department also told the New York Post, which first reported the story, that the location received a rodent complaint on Nov. 30.