Defiant Chehalis restaurant open for dine-in service despite state's COVID-19 restrictions

A defiant restaurant in Lewis County is open for dine-in service. This violates the restrictions on restaurants Gov. Jay Inslee issued in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Customers have been dining at Spiffy’s Restaurant and Bakery in Chehalis for almost 50 years. Right off Highway 12, people as far as west Seattle make their way inside for more than just a meal.

“Staying open, defying the order. So, I thought they deserve some business for that. I appreciate what they’re doing and they’re standing up for what they believe in. So, I thought I’d make the trek and have me some breakfast,” said West Seattle resident Matt Gilbert.

Spiffy’s owner, Rod Samuelson, calls it his “peaceful protest” against the state requirements. He said the main reason he opened his doors on Monday is to try to provide some income for his struggling staff.

“Enough is enough. We just can’t keep taking this thing sitting down. There’s too many lives that are at stake here,” said Samuelson.

Lives at stake in an era of COVID-19 is exactly why some people said they would not support the restaurant.

“If I have to wear this mask, I’m not dining in. It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Allison Johnson, a Lewis County resident. “Be mindful of everybody, whether you believe in this COVID or not. People are dying! I don’t understand. At what point are you going to be like, yeah, maybe we shouldn’t be doing this.”

Though he’s going against state orders, Samuelson said they’re still doing what they can inside to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Staff wears masks at all times, and customers are required to wear masks when entering and exiting the building.

“Menus are being wiped down in here, we’re properly spacing every other table. We have two entrances…one to go in, one to go out,” said Samuelson. “We’re trying to do everything. We don’t want anyone to get sick.”

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries confirmed it is aware of the situation. The team is collecting complaints and gathering further information. Should the state find the restaurant in violation, it could cost Samuelson a fine of up to $9,639. L&I can also issue an Order and Notice of Immediate Restraint. A representative explained, “That would require the business to close or stop providing the service. If they do not comply they could face criminal penalties along with the monetary penalty.”

Samuelson said it’s worth the risk if staying open helps pay his staff. He also mentioned supporters are donating towards potential fines and legal fees.

“We do obey the law, but the time has come where we got to make a stance,” said Samuelson.

Representatives from Inslee’s office said they understand the pandemic is hard on businesses. They further mentioned, however, “There are very critical reasons for these temporary COVID restrictions, as cases and hospitalizations are expected to continue to increase. There is no economic health without public health.”

“They’re singling us out as being the culprit and that’s wrong. We’re not the culprits and [Inslee] needs to realize that,” said Samuelson.

The governor’s office encouraged community members who are concerned about businesses putting people’s health at risk to file an anonymous complaint.

There has been resistance to the governor’s order in other places in Lewis County. In nearby Mossyrock, the city council recently passed an ordinance saying businesses don’t have to abide by the restrictions. However, the local ordinance also said it does not protect businesses from citations or fines from the state for breaking the rules.