Six days after meeting a pretty waitress at a Manhattan eatery, advertising executive George Yaghmour finally summoned the courage yesterday to ask her out. As an excuse to chat her up, he scheduled a business lunch at her restaurant, the Coffee Shop in Union Square.
When he arrived, Mr. Yaghmour discovered that the restaurant had been closed by the Health Department, the latest in a series of closures following the scandal over a rat-infested KFC/Taco Bell in Greenwich Village.
The Coffee Shop's neon sign was illuminated yesterday, but a sign in the window informed patrons that the eatery, where actors Taye Diggs, Jennifer Esposito, and Selma Blair worked before they became famous, was closed.
"I don't even know her name," Mr. Yaghmour said, bemoaning his loss.
Reached by telephone, a co-owner of the Coffee Shop, Charles Milite, said his restaurant, which is known for employing aspiring models and actors, had been caught in the crosshairs of the Health Department scandal.
"There's no rats, there's no roaches. This is just political," Mr. Milite said.
The Health Department has closed 67 restaurants since February 28, when press outlets aired footage of rats scurrying around a Greenwich Village KFC/Taco Bell that had passed an inspection the day before. Officials said they had received about 60 rodent complaints between February 22 and March 1, triple the normal rate.
"We have not told our inspectors to do anything different than they've done before," a deputy commissioner at the Health Department, Jessica Leighton, said, attributing the increase to press coverage.
However, Dr. Leighton said the city's 109 health inspectors would receive training next week in identifying and managing rodent issues. She said plans had been in the works for some time.
The Health Department's actions are troubling restaurant owners. "We are concerned that in the zeal to enforce the law, they may be overreacting," a restaurant industry lobbyist, Richard Lipsky, said.
Yesterday, would-be Coffee Shop diners were shocked to see their neighborhood hotspot shuttered. "I wasn't surprised about Taco Bell, but this?" a regular patron, Ursula Pilter, 34, said. "It's such a hip place. I just can't believe it."