WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - A new caught-on-camera WUSA9 investigation documents DC restaurants, including high-end French cafe Paul Bakery, defying closure orders - and continuing to serve customers - despite "health hazard" suspensions designed to keep customers safe.
DC restaurants are also failing to abide by city regulations requiring that they post the most recent health inspection in a location easily visible to customers.
DC Health declined to discuss specific restaurants identified in our investigation, but an official said a restaurant operating while under a closure order would be considered a dangerous place to eat.
"Certainly," said DCHealth Supervisor Ronnie Taylor."It presents an imminent health danger to the public, yes sir.
Paul Bakery ignores "health hazard" closure order
Paul Bakery at 20th and Pennsylvania is French and highly rated. It's one of the last places you would expect to see a health department placard warning of an imminent health hazard.
Inspectors report they placed it here, yet Paul Bakery says it never closed its doors.
DC Health inspectors report posting an "imminent health hazard" placard at Paul Bakery at 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW in September but inspectors reported it was "removed by unknown non authorized person."
Carlo Politano, chief operating officer of Paul Bakery said the inspector "posted the note on our door, but we were never closed."
Politano acknowledges, despite the closure order - the café remained open.
"I don't know who took the notice out but maybe a customer that wanted to eat with us that day." Paul Bakery's COO said, smiling when asked.
WUSA9 catches multiple suspended restaurants on camera
WUSA9 found suspended food businesses operating all over DC.
In October, our undercover producer bought milk and ice cream at a suspended Valero on Bladensburg Road. The "imminent health hazard " closure order was still hanging on the convenience store's window.
In May on 14th Street, WUSA9 caught Mi Casita Bakerytwice operating while under suspension, but with the closure order ripped down.
When WUSA9 asked DC Health if it had been reinspected, officials said no and an inspector shut them down again.
In June, our cameras caught Jannat Kabob in Northeast on Benning Road operating with the closure order still pasted on the door.
The owner said he fixed most of the problems abut when we called DC Health, an inspector showed up and shut him down again.
Besides those placards, DC law says restaurants must post the most recent inspection reports in a location that is conspicuous to consumers. But this month, back at Paul Bakery, WUSA9 looked and asked to see its most recent inspection report but couldn't find it.
When WUSA9 first reported on Paul Bakery's closure last month, the manager emailed, calling the story "a bit unfair" because other restaurants in the report had violations for "roaches or rodents."
While Paul Bakery wasn't cited for vermin, officials reported 10 violations including hand washing and potentially unsafe food temperatures like ham at 43 degrees and chicken at 52 degrees.
Officials also cited a no certified food manager violation.
Paul Bakery asked WUSA9 for a follow-up, but it didn't respond to our questions and called the police when we went to the restaurant in person..
DC Health Supervisor, Ronnie Taylor, told WUSA9, "I can't imagine any operation or manager that would just want to ignore the public health risk that has been raised by the health department and the action taken by DOH."
DOH estimates it's food protection staff of 26 inspectors is responsible to police about 5100 establishments.
When WUSA9 asked Taylor if the DOH was able to ensure that restaurants under closure orders, stay closed, he responded "he would love to do that, but on any given day, I may only have four inspectors in all of Northwest."
Taylors says inspectors do patrol for restaurants operating in violation of closure orders, but acknowledges some slip through the cracks.
Paul Bakery: "Our lesson has been learned"
Shortly before publication, Paul Bakery issued a new response and said, "Our lesson has been learned; this was clearly an administrative error. We have put new procedures in place so this will NEVER happen again."
If you see a placard warning of an imminent health hazard experts say it's unwise to eat there even if their doors are open.
Every DC restaurant is required to post its most recent health department inspection. If you don't see it ask why, if they don't give you a good explanation, call the health department.
Paul Bakery and the other restaurants we caught operating while under suspension have passed full health department inspections and their licenses have been reinstated.