MANDEVILLE — Mandeville High School students learned a valuable lesson in journalism this month: Don’t make up news.
The Crest, the school’s student newspaper, caused chaos at the La Carreta restaurant this weekend after it ran a fake article Friday stating that the popular establishment was closing because it failed to pass a routine health inspection.
Quoting a “Food Inspector” named Shawn Stevens, the student author wrote: “‘La Caretta (sic) restaurant blew me away when I went into the kitchen. ... I found they are re-using the food that people didn’t eat and making it seem as if they had just cooked it.”
The article was intended as a more than three-week late April Fool’s Day joke, according to the school’s principal, Bruce Bundy. But it gained further attention when an image of it went viral on Facebook without any indication that it was fabricated.
The article further quoted the fictitious inspector as saying “I am absolutely disgusted. The queso was also found to be months old.’’
The author offered some editorial comment as well: “It is amazing that what seemed to be a delicious restaurant is actually a filth house,” the article said.
The name of the restaurant is spelled incorrectly in the student newspaper, but there isn’t another restaurant with a similar name in Mandeville.
“Some families are even considering sueing for hundreds of dollars,’’ the article said. “The La Caretta restaurant is in a very deep hole, and it seems they will never climb out … Goodbye, La Caretta.”
Real-life litigation doesn’t seem to be on the table, according to one of the owners of La Carreta’s, which has nine Louisiana locations, including two in Baton Rouge. The owners also run Adobe Cantina and Salsa in Hammond.
Co-owner Robert Landry said that he doesn’t think the primary owner, Saul Rubio, is contemplating any legal action.
“They are part of the community,” Landry said of the restaurant. “They understand that it was a mistake.”
Landry also said that the school has “bent over backward to apologize.”
“A mistake was made,” said Bundy, who on Friday sent the restaurant an apology letter.
In the letter, Bundy wrote, “La Carreta is a great community partner and many students and families of Mandeville High enjoy eating at the restaurant on a regular basis. Although the article was intended as a joke, it was a bad judgment by the editor and the teacher to include the article in the paper. I have already met with the teacher involved, and we will definitely take steps to make sure this type of article is never published again.”
The apology letter offers the restaurant free advertising from the sponsor newspaper.
Additional letters were sent to the parents, Bundy said. At this point, the school is focusing on “correcting a wrong,” he said.
He said that the traditional April Fool’s issue was a bit late in getting out, and about half of the stories in the April edition were fictitious. On the second to last page of the paper, Bundy said there was a disclaimer about which stories were meant as jokes.
Jennifer Rubio, ex-wife of owner Saul Rubio, said the restaurant was bombarded with phone calls from distressed friends and families asking about the reported closure.
“The phones were ringing off the hook. It’s been a nightmare,” she said.
Bundy noted that the story was taken out of context when it was circulated on social media as a stand-alone story. He said that he has been in constant communication with the owner and that Saul Rubio is very supportive of the school.
Landry said Rubio has a positive attitude and is just hoping it will blow over quickly. It’s too soon to tell whether the story has had any financial impact on the business, he said.
Bundy said he could not comment on whether any disciplinary action was being taken against any teachers or students.
“What’s important is that the public knows that the article is totally false,” Bundy said.