The vast majority of restaurants and bars comply with new COVID-19 restrictions temporarily halting indoor dining, but a handful of area restaurants remain open in defiance of Governor Tom Wolf’s order.
“At the moment, we remain open,” said Rod Ambrogi, owner of Al’s Café in Bethel Park. “There are a number of (restaurants) that remain open to defend our rights and the salaries of our employees.”
Wolf on Thursday announced an order closing indoor dining until January 4 to limit the spread of the coronavirus as new cases have increased across the state in recent weeks. Take-out and alfresco dining are always available, with many restaurants offering one or both options.
But Ambrogi, who launched the Southwestern Pennsylvania Restaurant and Tavern Association over the summer to fight the state’s COVID restrictions, said the governor had unfairly targeted his industry. Ambrogi is holding a rally at his restaurant on Monday with the support of local leaders and state lawmakers to protest the state’s three-week restrictions on dining inside.
“It affects all of us in the region. It affects the whole industry, ”Ambrogi said. “We understand the virus is there and we are doing everything we can with masks and social distancing. “
A Facebook page titled “Eat Free PA” on Sunday posted the names of more than 200 restaurants and bars across the state that have pledged to stay open despite the governor’s order, including several in that region.
A large sign outside Rough Cut Tavern & Hotel on Route 18 north of Hickory greeted diners: “Yes! We are OPEN (for) indoor meals. Over a dozen people were eating at the table or sitting at the bar around lunchtime on Monday. No one was available to discuss the restaurant’s decision to stay open, but a Facebook post on Friday afternoon said “the suspension of indoor dining will devastate our employees.”
“Closing at this time would be devastating not only for our employees but for our business as a whole,” the post read. “Our bills just don’t stop, just because we have to shut our dining room inside. We can’t afford to close, and eating al fresco in December is not an option (for the restaurant). ”
Last Call in Canonsburg was also on Eat Free PA’s list, although a bartender who answered the phone Monday afternoon said he reconsidered concerns about the restaurant losing its liquor license and no longer offering as take-out. A Facebook post on Monday announced some of their take-out promotions for customers.
Uncle KoKo’s wood-fired pizzeria near Belle Vernon was also listed as open for dining inside, but an employee who answered the phone on Monday said they mostly offered options to to take with.
The Connellsville Italian oven announced on its Facebook page on Friday that it would continue to offer restaurant service until the end of Monday.
“Our employees have borne the brunt of this pandemic with lost hours and wages,” the post said. “In good conscience, we will not honor this current shutdown just a few weeks before Christmas and will deny our employees to work at this time. “
But a later article published on Sunday noted that the restaurant was struggling to have enough workers “due to no-shows and calls” to offer meals in person. The restaurant said it would “reconsider our options” when it is due to reopen on Thursday.
Piacquadio’s in Castle Shannon announced on its Facebook page on Friday night that it would be open for bar service and on-site dining during the holidays. But another article on Sunday night reported that the restaurant was closed on Monday for cleaning and maintenance, but planned to reopen on Tuesday.
Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Monday that the Department of Agriculture and State Liquor Control Board had enforced the mitigating orders for bars and restaurants throughout the year. pandemic and that their inspections will continue. She said the Wolf administration was trying to stop the spread of COVID-19 and that Pennsylvanians must work together and “show personal and collective responsibility” to fight the virus until a vaccine is widely available. available.
“You can’t eat with a mask,” Levine said.
The Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement conducted 526 statewide compliance checks over the weekend to enforce COVID-19 restrictions, issuing 24 warnings and 14 violations. Only one of these warnings occurred in the Pittsburgh area, although it is not known which facility received it.
Glen Titler, a supervisor and liquor control officer in the Pittsburgh area, said the weekend’s initial report showed most restaurants and bars were complying with the governor’s order.
“It didn’t seem like it was widespread,” Titler said.
Businesses that violate COVID-19 restrictions face increasing penalties for repeated violations, starting with a warning, then moving on to fines and possible suspension of liquor licenses.
“We respond to all complaints about bars and we do roving patrols. If it’s important for the governor, it’s important for us, ”he said.
State Representative Natalie Mihalek R-Upper St. Clair said she supports restaurants that wish to remain open during the shutdown, but she also understands why more are complying with the governor’s order.
“They have too much to lose. These licenses could be their savings, ”Mihalek said.
She said many players in the restaurant industry need Congress to pass a federal stimulus bill to keep them afloat during the crisis. While Mihalek is not sure what financial help can come from the state, she said many lawmakers pass on stories of local businesses in their struggling districts to Wolf.
“We have done everything possible to communicate with the administration regarding the serious impact this has had on the industry,” said Mihalek. “I understand there is a balance between the aspect of public safety, but there is also this economic damage that we cannot just flip a switch when the virus subsides. These places will not be there in January.
Editor Scott Beveridge contributed to this report.