restaurants

Five Berks County restaurants were ordered by the state last week to shut down for violating COVID-19 restrictions.

Four of the five were previously ordered to close for defying a temporary statewide ban on indoor dining.

The five were on a list of 24 restaurants across the state ordered to close for violating COVID-19 restrictions that was issued by the state Department of Agriculture this week. The department has been issuing such lists each week.

The closure orders are based on inspections done by the department, most of which are initiated by complaints from the public.

Ordered to close were:

  • Frank's Pizza, 2550 Perkiomen Ave., Mount Penn.
  • Letterman's Diner, 242 W. Main St., Kutztown.
  • Mad Dogs, 100 N. Constitution Blvd., Kutztown.
  • Stone Bar Inn, 535 Frystown Road, Bethel Township.
  • The Westy Bar & Grill, 279 W. State St., Tilden Township.

All but Stone Bar Inn were included on a previous list of restaurants ordered to close for defying an order by Gov. Tom Wolf that banned indoor dining from Dec. 12 to Jan. 4.

Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Shannon Powers said Thursday that the closure orders for defying the indoor dining ban expired on Jan. 4. The inclusion on the list represents violations of other existing restrictions like mask wearing, social distancing and capacity restrictions.

Powers could not immediately provide details on what restrictions the five restaurants violated. The department has created a dashboard on its website the includes information on violations, however. because of data entry issues it did not yet include the five Berks restaurants on Thursday.

Powers said that restaurants on the closure lists are allowed to reopen after agreeing to adhere to restrictions they were found to be violating.

Kerry Mengel, manager at Westy's, said Thursday that the restaurant was still open. He declined to comment on whether the violations included in the most recent list of closure orders were being addressed.

Mengel said he disagreed with the governor's COVID restrictions.

"I think it's unconstitutional what the governor is doing," he said.

A woman who identified herself as an owner of Mad Dogs on Thursday said the restaurant was open. She referred further questions to her husband, who declined to comment.

A woman who answered the phone at Stone Bar Inn said it was also open Thursday. A message left for the owner was not immediately returned.

A call to Letterman's went to voicemail. The restaurant's Facebook page indicated it was open Thursday but closed at its usual time at 1 p.m.

'Borderline harassment'

Francesco and Andrea Amato, owners of Frank's Pizza, issued a lengthy statement when asked for comment about the most recent closure order and their decision to remain open and continue to defy COVID-19 rules.

They claim that officials from the department have not actually done inspections when they've visited their restaurant.

"It is borderline harassment at this point for us and all the other restaurant owners just trying to go to work and provide for our families and employees," the statement said. "We do not have signage up nor do we have barriers in place which is why we got another 'shut down' notice.

"We do not feel that it is our job to police other human beings," the statement continued. "Grown adults should be able to make their own choices. If people don’t feel comfortable coming here, that is absolutely fine. We chose to run a restaurant and feed people, that is the job we do here."

The statement adds that the Amatos believe paper signs, plastic barriers and other items required by the department are "just more waste for our planet, and we don’t care to contribute to that."

"It’s time we start realizing that we aren’t the only life forms on this planet," the statement said. "The amount of gloves and masks we see thrown on the ground is disgusting. Let’s start thinking about this from all aspects."

Unfinished business

The fact that restaurants that have been ordered to close are remaining open is nothing new.

When the closure orders for violating the indoor dining ban were issued many across the state remained open. That included the Berks restaurants, which all defied that order.

The state on Dec. 23 filed a petition in Commonwealth Court against 22 restaurants that refused to close and committed other violations of COVID-19 restrictions, including eight in Berks. The petition sought to force them to shut their doors.

The Westy, Frank's Pizza, Mad Dogs and Letterman's were named in the petition along with:

  • Deluxe Restaurant, 2295 Lancaster Pike, Cumru Township.
  • Juke Box Cafe, 535 S. Reading Ave., Boyertown.
  • Quality Shoppe, 45 Constitution Blvd., Kutztown.
  • Oley Turnpike Dairy Diner, 6213 Oley Turnpike Road, Oley.

The state is also seeking compensatory damages related to the costs of enforcing the indoor dining ban order and punitive damages for "willful and wanton violation of the order."

The court has not yet taken action on the petition.

The state filed a second petition on Jan. 6 seeking injunctions against 28 restaurants that the state claims showed "continued acts of defiance" of the indoor dining ban and other COVID-19 restrictions. Two Berks restaurants are named in that petition:

  • Seasons Cafe, 15 Village Center Drive, Flying Hills.
  • Cloud 9 Cafe, 84 Commerce Drive., Spring Township.

The petition seeks to force restaurants who do not adhere to COVID-19 restrictions to close and seeks damages.

The court has not yet taken action on the petition.

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