WEST ROGERS PARK — Rub's Backcountry Smokehouse was shut down by the city Thursday after health inspectors found rat droppings in the restaurant, owner Jared Leonard said.
A neon-green sticker was posted on the restaurant's front door Thursday evening indicating a suspended business license.
Leonard said the rat droppings were found in areas away from where food is prepared or stored and said customers need not worry that the food is unsafe at his restaurant. He said the restaurant is taking efforts to fix the problems.
"The last thing I want people to think is that we’re trying to minimize the seriousness of keeping a clean establishment or trying to dodge responsibility," the pitmaster said by phone from a barbecue trade show in San Marcos, Tex.
He said his employees called him when an inspector from the city's health department found the droppings in the restaurant's basement, which is shared with several storefronts on the block, and isn't used to store food.
Leonard said the inspectors also noted droppings "under the main counter," but were referring to a closed space below floor-level that leads to the basement and had not been used for food preparation.
The inspection report notes nine health code violations, including 10 rat droppings found under a compartment sink, 20 droppings in "dry food storage areas" and 17 droppings "under soda machine table" on the first floor.
According to the report, 200 dropping were found under the stairs in the basement and the inspector instructed Leonard to clean the droppings and seal openings under and around doors.
Leonard was also ticketed for not having a "certified food manager on site when potentially hazardous foods are prepared and served."
The report also notes an improperly stored ice scoop and a dirty mop room, among other "minor" violations.
According to city records, Rub's has never failed a health inspection before.
Rub's is known for serving southern-style, smoked ribs, pulled pork and brisket at 6954 N. Western Ave., while offering barbecue how-to classes next door. Leonard has competed in national competitions.
Leonard said he wanted to get his side of the story out before rumors swirled about the closure, like when Uptown's Sun Wah BBQ was shut down for violations in December.
"They looked upstairs and it was fine, and all the food temps were fine," Leonard said of the inspectors. "Then the guy went in the basement."
He said the basement was largely used for storage and the inspectors noted "clutter" in the basement area.
The droppings were found in "obscure spaces and in corners of locked closets that we don’t open," he said.
Leonard said the inspectors instructed his employees to clean up the rat droppings.
He said he expects to reopen after a follow-up inspection early next week.
"It’s nothing permanent," he said. "It’s just a blip in the road, and we’ll get through it."