FORT WAYNE – First, the signs began appearing.
Bright, neon-colored ones, taped to the front doors of restaurants closed at various times for health violations.
They would grab people's attention, people who would spread it on social media or call media outlets.
They in turn would splash those closures across their websites and newscasts, which possibly made people more wary of other establishments they visit, a local health official said.
And then there's the rough winter, which has driven many rodents and other pests indoors – sometimes through the cracks of walls at restaurants.
The Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health is on pace this year to far eclipse the number of restaurants it had to close because of health violations in all of 2013.
Officials say a mix of factors could be making the numbers spike.
It's not necessarily that there are more restaurants violating the health code.
"It's hard to pinpoint," health department spokesman John Silcox said, comparing this year's number of closures with last year's.
The Lakeside Café on Coliseum Boulevard North was the latest restaurant to be closed because of health violations. The eatery's doors were closed Wednesday after health officials found evidence of pests inside, according to the health department.
It was the ninth restaurant closed this year. In all of 2013, the health department closed 23 restaurants.
The health department began using bright signs on closures in November, Silcox said.
That led to people noticing closures more, some officials believe.
Once they saw these signs, Silcox said, it might have made some people more cognizant of where they were eating. They may have begun to notice signs of health violations they never noticed before at other restaurants they visited, he said.
"Part of the issue is, people were not used to seeing the signs," Silcox said. "Then they would see something somewhere else and submit a complaint, whereas in the past they might not have."
Late last year, the closings of two Asian restaurants were among the first where the health department's bright signs appeared. The Koto Japanese Steakhouse and Hibachi Grill Supreme Buffet were closed in December because of cockroach problems.
That was followed by the closure of Red Rok Saloon downtown this month when a health department inspector found dead mice and mouse droppings inside the restaurant.
At the time, one of the restaurant's managing partners said the rough winter had led to mice finding a home inside the restaurant.
Silcox concurred that the winter, which has been unusually cold, can drive such rodents into buildings.
This week, Naked Tschopstix – located off U.S. 24 near Interstate 69 – was closed because of pests. That was just a day before the Lakeside Café closed.
Naked Tschopstix has since reopened.
While there were some people inside the Lakeside Café late Thursday afternoon, it was still closed.
Restaurants can correct problems found during inspections relatively quickly, with health department officials on hand at any time to reinspect those that have been shut down, Silcox said.
"We respond 24/7," he said.
To register a complaint
- The online complaint form can be used to register a complaint regarding a food establishment, tattoo facility, hotel, public health or smoking nuisance within Allen County.