As restaurant owners struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic stay-at-home orders in 2020, many in Los Angeles County defied restrictions that only permitted takeout orders. The county decided to sue at least two restaurants that allegedly remained open and recently reached a $10,000 settlement with one of those restaurants.
The owner of Cronies Sports Grill, David Foldes, rebelled against county orders that banned both indoor and outdoor dining last winter. Foldes received the first citation from inspectors in the Los Angeles Public Health Department (LAPHD) on Nov. 28. From then until January, Foldes received more than a dozen citations totaling more than $1,000.
“The way restaurants are being treated right now is unfair,” Foldes told The Epoch Times in a previous interview. “Everybody who tells me that I have to close and is giving these fines is getting paid … to cite me. I’m not getting paid, and I’m very worried about the future of our business.”
Foldes employed nearly 30 people and didn’t lay anyone off, he said. He received funds from the Paycheck Protection Program to help keep the restaurant open. He said previously that he was “trying to keep enough people employed, knowing I’m going to lose money, because I see light at the end of the tunnel.”
County health inspectors observed 18 to 22 customers eating and drinking on Cronies Sports Grill’s outdoor patio and also saw that a closure notice posted on the front door the day before was camouflaged by a banner, according to the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit dated Jan. 27.
When Agoura Hills residents learned about county health inspectors visiting Cronies on a weekly basis, as many as 300 patrons lined up outside the restaurant to show support on Dec. 7, which caused more controversy for Foldes.
On Dec. 12, the restaurant’s public health permit was revoked, and a written notice to cease all operations was sent to Foldes, according to court documents. Foldes filed an appeal thereafter.
Under the injunction signed by Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis on Oct. 21, Cronies must pay $10,000 in abatement fees in addition to $25,000 in suspended civil penalties enforceable only if a court finds the restaurant violated the settlement.
“Defendants have chosen to flout the rules, by continuing to offer outdoor dining, putting the health of their workers, customers, and the community at risk,” said the county of Los Angeles in the suit.
In the same lawsuit, the county sued Tinhorn Flats Saloon & Grill on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank; that case is still pending litigation.
The citations issued came during a time when many restaurateurs across Los Angeles were pushing back against county health officials and organizing protests. Los Angeles was the only county in California to ban outdoor dining a week before Thanksgiving, in response to a record spike in COVID-19 cases.
In an attempt to overturn LAPHD’s order on Nov. 24, Los Angeles County Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn proposed a resolution to allow outdoor dining. But the ban was upheld by supervisors Sheila Kuehl, Hilda Solis, and then-supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
“Businesses have made incredible sacrifices to align with safety protocols to remain open in order to pay their bills and feed their families,” Supervisor Barger said in a statement at the time. “Our hospitalization rates are among the lowest we’ve seen. Yet, the rationale for further closures is tied to the number of patients in the hospital. We’ve come a long way to support workers and residents who are struggling to stay afloat, and should not regress.”
According to a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study cited by the LAPHD last year, adults with positive COVID-19 test results were around twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than were those with negative test results.
Restaurants in Los Angeles were allowed to begin outdoor dining last summer after a takeout-only model was required beginning in March. The rapidly evolving indoor and outdoor dining restrictions and other pandemic-related rules left many restaurant owners frustrated.
“It’s unfair,” Foldes said last December. “If I need to close down my operation, we will normally do it. [But] then other places—such as Costco, Home Depot, and Lowe’s, and Target—should be shut down also.”
Los Angeles County officially lifted its ban on outdoor dining on Jan. 29 this year.