WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA9) - Rodents and other health violations at Cosi's Metro Center location exploded into a PR problem beyond sanitation when the regional manager issued a statement calling a WUSA9 inquiry "unwarranted" and asking us not to look under their tables because it created "a great deal of distress."
A part-owner of Cosi intervened as the controvery escalated and issued an apology.
You can see the full Cosi email on Russ Ptacek's Facebook page and add your opinion. You can also follow him on Twitter.
DC Health inspectors ordered an emergency closure at the Cosi Metro Center store citing rodents, rodent droppings, chicken and other foods at potentially sickening temperatures, improper tracking of employee diseases transmittable through food, and sinks too small to clean Cosi's large utensils, trays, and bowls.
When we visited the store the manager asked us to leave and said she would contact an owner.
That's when we received the Cosi email that that didn't offer an apology or address the "imminent health hazard" identified by city inspectors.
"We would appreciate it if you do not disturb our customers, partners and management team with unwarranted investigations," wrote regional manager Yasmin Contreras. "Actions such as looking under our furniture or asking questions aggressively do a great deal of distress towards our customers and our Cosi team."
View the attached videotape to see how we approached the store manager. You can also see the small brown pellets we examined on the floor that turned out to be coffee beans.
We posted the email on Facebook.
"Keyword - unwarranted - makes me wonder if they don't understand the depth of having 17 serious violations," wrote Facebook member Marsha Ioerger. "A cameraman and investigative reporter must threaten them more than rodent droppings."
"Cop out," wrote Facebook member CoCo ColeBaby Wallace . "Keep the people informed."
After we posted the Cosi email on Facebook, it was shared more than 140 times and reached about 20,000 people.
Only one supported Cosi's reaction.
"It is his establishment and his request was not out of line," wrote Patricia Badaczewski. "Sorry Russ, but you were looking for a 'gotcha' moment."
Washington City Paper included the controvery in a column.
"Will WUSA9 reporter Russ Ptacek...see his freedom to investigate restaurant rats abridged?" WCP wrote. "Cosi has asked Ptacek not to show up at its Metro Center location with cameras in tow, warning that he could cause "a great deal of distress."
One of Cosi's owners, Richard Pawlowski contacted WUSA9 by phone apologizing for the response and for the sanitation violations.
"We appreciate the work that you do," Pawlowski said in a follow-up email. "We would further like to thank the DC Health Department for their work, we have always maintained a positive working relationship with the inspectors."
"We have taken the opportunity to provide some additional training to our staff and we have implemented new procedures that reinforce our very high standards of health, safety and hygiene at this and all of our other locations," Pawlowski wrote. "We take the food safety very seriously and we would welcome our guests to visit us to see the high standards that we maintain."
Pawlowski agreed to an on-camera interview, but said scheduling prevented made it impossible to meet the deadline of this story.