As COVID-19 cases continue to spike in the region, a handful of Central Oregon restaurants are flouting the state’s mandate that bans indoor dining in extreme-risk counties and requires patrons to wear face masks. Owners say their restaurants are being unfairly targeted by the restrictions and it is resulting in lost business.
For one establishment, the defiance has been costly. But it continues to ignore the state order.
Kevista Coffee on Century Drive in Bend is appealing a $8,900 fine from the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration for allegedly failing in June to require that employees wear face masks. The state agency is investigating two additional complaints from September alleging that neither employees or customers wore masks, according to OSHA spokesperson Aaron Covin.
Kevin Lauinger, co-owner of Kevista Coffee, declined to comment Wednesday afternoon.
“No thank you. Not right now,” he said inside his coffee shop, which was completely full with customers. A line of about a dozen people waited to order coffee, and only one wore a mask.
A sign on the door outside said. “No photos or videos allowed of our staff!”
Matthew Fidler, owner of We’re The Würst, a sausage supplier in Redmond, said Wednesday he supports businesses like Kevista Coffee deciding to take a risk to protect their livelihoods and be able to keep paying their employees.
Fidler’s own business struggled through the pandemic this year as it transformed from a food cart and catering business to solely a supplier for grocery stores and restaurants.
“We had to adjust,” Fidler said. “No one is catering. There’s no events. No concerts. What else can we do?”
To show his support for restaurants affected by the state shutdown, Fidler took to Facebook.
He wrote a post on the We’re The Würst Facebook page Dec. 3 to encourage people to dine at Westside Local, a restaurant in Redmond that has allowed indoor dining. In the post, he said he wasn’t worried about losing business for standing up for his constitutional rights.
“No I don’t care what you think. No I don’t need to hear your stories. No I don’t care if you choose not to do business with us,” Fidler wrote in the post. “This is a fight for the liberties afforded us by our forefathers. It is your right to peaceably assemble, and no government shall infringe upon it. This is not a ‘right’ or ‘left’ issue, it is an American citizen issue.”
Fidler said he has received some backlash from the post, including about 10 negative reviews of his business. But he believes it’s worth it.
“No one seems to be willing to speak out,” Fidler said. “But it’s necessary. I think it’s absolutely necessary for our wellbeing. I think it’s necessary for businesses like Westside Local to be able to provide for their families.”
Amber Amos, owner of Westside Local, said Wednesday that allowing indoor dining is a matter of survival to keep her restaurant open. Throughout pandemic, restrictions have made her turn customers away and close for days at a time because she couldn’t afford to pay her staff.
“I stand for small business,” Amos said. “We are doing the best we can to survive.”
Amos said people are mistaking her decision as not caring about public safety. And that’s not true, she said. Her restaurant seats about 13 people inside, and her staff wears masks and regularly sanitizes the surfaces. And the restaurant has passed every health inspection it has had, she said.
“We are safe. We are sanitized. We are masked up,” Amos said.
Amos said restaurants are being unfairly affected by the state’s mandate, considering people can do other activities indoors like shop for groceries or visit a dentist. She worries about her restaurant and other small businesses in the region.
“This is not political. This is very much about the livelihood of the community,” she said. “The things that build this local economy. And that’s what I’m standing for.”