VENICE, Fla.- Big Daddy's Burger Den is an after school hamburger hotspot popular with students from nearby Venice High School. But many might think twice about where they're eating after a November report by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
State inspectors shut down the restaurant November 15th after discovering a series of critical health code violations.
Last week, we stopped in to find out what was going on. We were greeted by Manager John Mussone, who describes what he claims happened. "It was just a plumbing issue ... and some cleaning that took place. It was no big deal," he said.
PHOTOS: Big Daddy's Burger Den
But according to the state inspection report, Big Daddy's was shut down after the inspector documented well over 200 rodent droppings in the kitchen. The droppings, according to the state, were found along the cookline floor, on the food prep table, next to a bag of open potato chips, inside a box of tomatoes, and even inside an ice transfer bucket used for customer drinks.
"I don't want to eat there! That's disgusting," said former customer Gerrianne Davis.
Altogether, the state inspector documented 271 droppings. Marie McDonald said she knows all about the importance of keeping restaurants clean.
"I carried a health license for 33 years," said McDonald. "You want my opinion? I wouldn't touch it with a 10 foot pole and I wouldn't go back. It's pure filth! Rodents are horrible carriers."
Mussone said the rodent issue is now taken care of.
"I can tell you exactly what the problem was," he explained. "With the Publix Plaza being under construction next door and they just knocked down the old high school, we went from having no problem at all, to three weeks ago a nightmare."
The restaurant said it's also hired routine pest control. But when we asked to take a look in the kitchen for ourselves, Mussone said he was too busy to take us inside.
"Oh, not today ... we are just coming off a big lunch rush. I'm literally back there scrubbing dishes myself right now."
The state eventually cleared Big Daddy's Restaurant to reopen, but without getting a chance to take a look around a week later it's unclear what this kitchen is like inside today.
"I probably will never eat here again hearing that," said another customer, uneasy after learning the restaurant was unwilling to allow our camera inside. "It's disgusting."
"It was just routine maintenance. We had a small clean up issue in the kitchen, we took care of it right away, the start of the busy season kept us preoccupied and its certainly not going to happen again," said Mussone, assuring customers the restaurant is safe and clean.
On top of all the rodent issues, the state also documented employees going from touching dirty dishes to handling clean silverware without washing their hands; a ceiling tile was damaged and hanging down directly above the cooks line; and perhaps most telling of all, according to the report, the restaurant was covered in grease and food debris all over the floors and walls, which could be another indication how this rodent issue got started in the first place.