San Diego County moved into COVID-19 purple tier restrictions on Nov. 14. A Pine Valley restaurant owner said he is refusing to follow the new mandates and will not shut his doors again.
Larry McNamer, owner of Major’s Diner, said at this point the general public is taking the brunt of everyone else’s actions.
“Suddenly last week they decided all because of groups of young idiots at SDSU and USD and all of the people that wanted to have Halloween parties decided they were going to do what they did which drove up the positivity rate,” he said.
McNamer said he sat down with his wife and they made the decision that, this time, they were not going to close because from their standpoint their business could not take another major financial hit.
“We spent an awful lot of time, money and effort getting things back up to where it started making sense again and they were going to close us down. I told my wife that this was it and we were taking a stand. We are done,” he said. “We are not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. We are not going to throw the mandates out. We are going to continue doing the mandates, social distancing, masking, gloves and everything else they were asking us to do in restaurants. The only caveat to it was we were not going to close.”
McNamer said after an interview with ABC 10 News San Diego, the county’s health department contacted him, and its response was a little perplexing.
“They were not sure how to handle it because there were so many people jumping ship on this that they knew they had a problem on their hands. They were afraid if they went forward with enforcing any of this, they were going to lose all of their poise and reputation with the restaurants and knew it would cause a lot of bad blood,” he said.
McNamer said that he is absolutely open to talk with the county about the operations of his business, but that there is a “line in the sand” he will not cross. He said that whether he is fined for staying open or receives a cease and desist order, he is not backing down, even it that means taking it to the courts.
“If the first question starts with, we need to find out how you can close and still have income coming in, then I am getting up from the table and walking away,” he said. “That is absolutely a deal breaker. I will not even consider closing the restaurant. I know they must do what they have to do. I am not here to antagonize, but if you choose to try and close me with any kind of force or fines, the gloves are coming off and the game is on.”
In an email, Lt. Ricardo Lopez, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department media relations director, said, “The Sheriff’s Department will attempt to gain voluntary compliance by educating and can issue citations or forward cases to the District Attorney’s Office for review and prosecution if needed and warranted.”
County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said she sympathizes with the frustrations and is sensitive to the economic pain.
“The fact is that the latest COVID trendlines do not point to restaurants being the primary problem, but these closures are a state decision and I will continue to fight for more local control,” she said.
McNamer said when COVID-19 hit in March, he was as stunned as anyone else that everything was closing. He said like everyone else he had to figure out a way to stay relevant and make money.
“At that point we figured out that we could probably do take- out, which at the time was not our main source of business,” he said. “We figured we could do take out which for a period of time grew and grew and kind of got to a point where we were actually able to pay some bills and keep the doors open and continue moving down the road. It was not easy. We had to lay off half of our staff.”
He said he was fortunate that Major’s has a fairly good outdoor seating area when the county began allowing outdoor dining at 25 percent, but even with that, it was operating at about 60 percent of its normal revenue.
“We did that and were really starting to make headway in coming back all of the way,” he said. “We did that interview and put it out in the world to hear that we were not closing and if they wanted to shut us down, they were going to have a fight on their hands.”
On Nov. 18 the County of San Diego issued a cease-and-desist order to Major’s Diner in which they wrote: “it is your duty to ensure that the Orders’ are complied with. If you do not comply, we will take actions necessary to enforce the Orders. Failure to comply may result in criminal misdemeanor citations with a $1,000 fine for each violation.”
Restrictions under the purple tier require some businesses, such as restaurants, to stop indoor service. They can provide outdoor service as long as they follow social distancing and face covering protocol.
As of Nov. 16 there were 12 COVID-19 positive cases reported in Pine Valley.