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ADH: “No one path” for restaurant compliance

Updated: Jul. 13, 2020 at 10:28 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - When it comes to enforcing the Arkansas Department of Health’s COVID-19 directives for restaurants and bars, there’s little inspectors can do.

Since May 11, when Arkansas restaurants opened their doors to dine-in customers, the ADH has heard from numerous consumers complaining that some area businesses are not complying with the directive.

Health inspectors in Northeast Arkansas, according to online ADH records, have reported employees and customers at various eating establishments not maintaining 6′ of separation and not wearing masks as required.

On June 23, an inspector went to Grecian Steakhouse, 210 Airport Rd. in Paragould, following a complaint regarding customers not wearing masks.

According to the inspection report, Manager Chris Zaharapoulos “stated the facility does not require masks.”

“I mean, I was in shock. Blindsided,” the family states. “What you put down, what they quoted. He didn’t say that.”

Chris’s wife Brenna and father Pet help run the business. Pet opened the doors in Paragould 35 years ago.

“People were threatening her,” Chris Zaharopoulos said. “They were cussing at her. I’m not going to put my employees in danger so we put the signs up that it’s recommended you wear masks, that all patrons wear masks until seated.”

The Zaharopoulos family says the ADH did not tell them she filed a report. They say the inspector also couldn’t answer any of their questions.

“I asked her, ‘How are we supposed to enforce that [masks]? How we’re supposed to enforce people to wear masks?’ She said I don’t know,” Chris says.

After providing him with a copy of the directive and explaining that masks are required upon entering and exiting, the inspector reported, “Manager stated they recommend masks but will not require it.”

Pet agreed with this statement.

“At that time, we said, ‘We’re not going to refuse service,‘” he says. “I think this is discriminated against small businesses.”

“I can’t tell my customers not to come in,” Pet added. “They’ll go to another restaurant with no masks.”

The family questions the department’s motives.

“People, they’re going to Walmart and Lowe’s and they’re going in,” Chris says. “They don’t have to wear masks, then they’re coming here and they don’t understand why they have to wear masks. They don’t know about these directives.”

When asked if they would comply with a mandatory mask requirement, the owners said they would listen.

“If it’s mandatory then we’ll abide by it. But don’t make it mandatory at my restaurant,” Pet said. “Make it mandatory at every business in town.”

The owners re-iterated they would not refuse service, saying they’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars since the pandemic began.

Region 8 News asked the ADH what, if anything, could inspectors do regarding non-compliant businesses.

“There is no one path of recourse for those facilities that are non-compliant at the time of inspection,” the ADH replied in an email statement. “If the facility continues to operate in a state of non-compliance with the special directives, then the ADH legal department will become involved and the facility could be in jeopardy of losing their permit to operate, be forced to shut down or close down and cease operation, but not necessarily in this order.”

The ADH added there could be “additional penalties and actions depending on the establishment (bar or club versus a restaurant) and additional outside agency involvement (like ABC Board, or city/county code enforcement).”

Earlier this month the ADH shut down Brewski’s Pub & Grub in Little Rock after three employees tested positive for COVID-19 and, according to our content partner KARK, for failing to comply with the health department’s guidelines.

“Specifically, Brewski’s Pub and Grub was operating at more than 66% capacity, not ensuring proper social distancing with seating, and not ensuring patrons wear face coverings,” KARK reported.

The violations were discovered during an inspection by the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.

The ADH ordered the business to cease operations until a hearing before the Arkansas Board of Health.

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