About two weeks after Gov. Tom Wolf temporarily banned indoor dining, several restaurants in Pennsylvania have been ordered to shut their doors for defying the mandate.
Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture announced it has ordered about 40 restaurants to close for allowing patrons to eat indoors. The inspections took place Dec. 14-20.
Under the governor’s latest mandate, restaurants are not permitted to serve patrons indoors for three weeks ending Jan. 4. In addition, restaurants must continue to follow rules requiring employees to wear masks, while they offer carryout and takeout and serve diners outdoors.
Restaurants ordered to close include several in central Pennsylvania such as Dad’s Garage Grill & Burger House in Mechanicsburg, 230 Café in Highspire and Tony’s Pizzeria & Restaurant in Highspire.
230 Cafe co-owner Shelby Reitz said the restaurant stayed open for sit-down service through today, Dec. 24, to financially help employees through Christmas Day.
“Our major concern was our employees getting to Christmas. None of this had to be with the politics of it. What’s important to me are my employees, family and customers,” Reitz said.
Unfortunately, he said they received an injunction for defying the Department of Agriculture’s order to close. Starting Dec. 27, Reitz said the cafe will be open for takeout only through Jan. 4.
Restaurants that continue to defy the closing orders and operate in any manner, according to the Department of Agriculture will be referred to the Pennsylvania Department of Health for further legal action.
About 79 visits to restaurants throughout the state were complaint-driven based on establishments offering dine-in service, said Shannon Powers, Department of Agriculture spokeswoman. The restaurants are among 180 establishments issued warnings by the department
The 40 restaurants were ordered to close for refusing to comply, while the others either agreed to stop dine-in service or had already done so, Powers said.
Some restaurant owners have unsuccessfully filed lawsuits against Wolf’s indoor dining ban. On Wednesday, a judge refused a plea by two central Pa. restaurants and a trade association to end enforcement of the indoor dining ban.
U.S. Middle District Judge Christopher C. Conner concluded his court cannot intervene in the absence of a civil rights violation which the Hershey Independent Restaurant Association and the owners of the Fenicci’s of Hershey and The River House Bar & Grill failed to demonstrate.
Other agencies in the state including the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement oversee COVID-19 enforcement. The agency recently cited dozens of licensed establishments in the state.
Powers emphasized the majority of restaurants in Pennsylvania are following mitigation orders.
“The 40 restaurants closed by order represent a tiny subset of the more than 40,000 retail food businesses licensed and inspected by the department, a number that doesn’t include the state’s most populous cities and counties whose health departments inspect restaurants,” she said.
Complaints, whether general food safety concerns or those related to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, can be filed online.
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