Update, 3:45 p.m. Monday: After public outcry over his decision to remain open despite Gov. Jay Inslee’s shutdown order, Wok About Grill owner Shon Smith said he's closing the Wenatchee and Leavenworth restaurants.
Smith said he received threats over his initial post saying he would not comply with the requirement. The Facebook pages for both restaurants have been deleted.
He said Sheriff Brian Burnett called to recommend he shut down, but public backlash is his main reason for closing.
Inslee’s order still allows restaurants to provide takeout and delivery services, though Smith said he’s shutting down completely. He has advised his workers to apply for unemployment.
“We’ve chosen to just close the doors and let the dust settle,” he said. “The safety of my crew and our establishment is not worth what is going on right now in our society. The support was overwhelming and flattering, but their safety is more important than the almighty dollar.”
Chelan-Douglas Health District Administrator Barry Kling said Smith has a permit from the district requiring him to comply with federal, state and local laws and it would be a crime to operate without that permit.
However, Kling said Smith decided to close before the health district reached out to him. They were waiting for an update Monday from the governor before taking action, he said.
“We don’t think it’s worth freaking out or feeling helpless,” he said. “It’s worth feeling like there is something you can do and doing it, and that’s what he ended up doing, so I applaud that. ... We really appreciate that he decided to do the right thing.”
NCW — At least one business owner is defying Gov. Jay Inslee’s order temporarily shutting down all restaurants, bars, entertainment and recreational facilities to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Shon Smith, who owns the Wok About Grill restaurants in Wenatchee and Leavenworth, is encouraging people to visit if they’re healthy and will offer curbside service to customers who are sick. He posted his intentions to the business’ Facebook page Sunday night, soon after the shutdowns were announced.
Restaurants are still allowed to provide takeout and delivery services. The closures do not apply to grocery stores or pharmacies, but other retail stores will have reduced occupancy.
In an interview Monday, Smith said he believes other places, such as large stores, airports and packing sheds, have greater potential for contamination than a restaurant. He also thinks Inslee should have given business owners a week to prepare for the closures.
“I’m not doing this to be defiant and thumb my nose at the disease or thumb my nose at the control of the disease,” he said. “I’m just very disappointed that our leadership in Olympia did not do more for us before they handed down a heavy-handed decision like this. I am sympathetic for anybody that is vulnerable, anybody that has it, anybody that’s made it through it. I get it. I support them 100%. But without a plan and a knee-jerk reaction like this, the displacement is huge.”
Smith doesn’t think he could afford to keep the restaurants open solely offering takeout service. He also can’t afford to offer paid leave to his employees.
“I’ve not required any of my employees to show up today,” he said. “It’s on a volunteer basis. I have offered layoffs. I’ve offered the opportunity for them to go and begin their unemployment today if they would like, but we have front-of-the-house staff that can’t afford to live off of 70% of their income for very long. ... If they feel like they want to come to work and they’re healthy, great.”
He believes the chances of his employees spreading illness are low.
“If we had an older generation working in our establishment, I would certainly support them and protect them as much as possible,” he said. “But the kids that we have working here aren’t the issue.”
Smith said the state should have set up a draft account for employers to cover payroll.
“If I had to cover one payroll without income coming in or a modified income coming in, it would shut us down,” he said. “Our payroll package is $57,000 every two weeks between the two restaurants. Show me one operator that can handle that even one pay period, let alone an unknown length of time.”