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Opening night at Ray’s the Steaks‘ new location in the Navy League Building was not exactly The Towering Inferno, even if chef/owner Michael Landrum did describe last Tuesday’s scene in ’70s-era disaster movie terms. Well, it turns out that the so-called hood system failure, which caused heavy smoke to drift into the dining room, was not so mechanical after all.
On Friday night, with his place jamming and people still clamoring for a seat in this casually hip playpen, Landrum took a moment to give me a brief tour of the restaurant’s duct work. He explained that workers had fished out not one, but two pieces of insulation that were wedged into the exhaust system. It was not the type of insulation used to wrap duct work. Even stranger, Landrum noted, was the item wedged between those two pieces of insulation: a trash bag filled with flammable fast-food debris.
Between the insulation, the trash bag, and a grill going full guns, the exhaust system quickly backed up, releasing plumes of smoke into the dining room around 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday. Some customers left. Those who were waiting for a seat were asked if they wanted a rain check. Others decided to stay and, literally, choke down their steak. Some, Landrum says, “fought their way outside, so they could get a breath of fresh air and come back in to finish their steak.”
Landrum lost serious business on opening night because of the incident, but he’s not ready to point fingers. At least not yet. “It could be that possibly someone had been up there on the roof and didn’t want to litter, so he used the ductk work as a trash chute,” he says.
The owner says he hasn’t notified police about the matter. But he has saved the trash bag and insulation as evidence.