When diners paid a visit to the new Me & Julio restaurant in Fitchburg for a bite Thursday night, they weren’t expecting to be joined by toothy reptiles.
But the restaurant — which opened Monday — was sporting some alligator accessories that weren’t for the fashionistas in the room.
According to restaurant owner Michael Shaul, an adult male alligator named Albert and a smaller alligator were confined to a corner table in the restaurant for photos from about 5 to 8 p.m.
Shaul said diners enjoyed taking photos with the reptilian visitors and no one approached him with any concerns while they were there. He said the alligators were never permitted to roam free in the restaurant.
But while diners may have enjoyed themselves, health officials weren’t too keen on the experience.
After hearing about the scaly visitors, a restaurant inspector from Public Health Madison and Dane County visited the restaurant to investigate the incident, said health department spokesman Jeffrey Golden.
The alligators being inside the restaurant “represented a violation of a safety code,” said Golden, who was made aware of the incident after a video went online Thursday.
Douglas Voegeli, the health department’s director of environmental health, said “the food code is very clear about animals on the premises of a food establishment – they are prohibited. Exceptions are made for service animals, patrol dogs, and fish (in an aquarium).”
Golden said Me & Julio received a notification that they were not permitted to have animals in the restaurant, but they did not receive a fine for the incident.
Although the alligators’ visit wasn’t pre-planned, Shaul said, other openings that his business partner Charlie Burrows has hosted have often included animal trainer Monty Krizan and one of his rescued animal friends.
“Monty always takes something out when they have an opening,” Shaul said.
Krizan operates Monty’s Reptile Show and lives in the Twin Cities area, Shaul said. Burrows — who co-owns the original Me & Julio in Hastings, Minnesota — is friends with Krizan, who happened to be visiting the area this week.
“Monty’s had (Albert) since he was the size of a hot dog,” Shaul said. “When Charlie said Monty was coming down and he told me Albert was a gator, I asked if it was safe.
“(Albert) is like a little puppy, he was raised by Monty and he takes him everywhere. I didn’t give any thought to anything else other than the safety aspect and (Albert) was fine.”
Krizan and his associate were with the animals the whole time as diners took photos with Albert or held the smaller, muzzled alligator, Shaul said.
Though Albert’s visit brought a lot of joy to the children, Shaul said, the alligator won’t be returning to the restaurant.
“I totally apologize,” he said. “I certainly would never allow that to ever happen again. We are just excited to be here and to be welcomed by the city of Fitchburg.”