Port Orchard restaurant reopens in defiance of stay-home order

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. – A restaurant in Port Orchard is violating Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order by reopening business for dine-in service.

Kitsap County is eligible to submit a Phase 2 variance application for the Safe Start Washington plan, a phased approach to reopen the economy and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. But the county has not yet submitted a request for variance.

Craig Kenady, owner of That One Place Diner, said he couldn’t wait any longer for the county’s application to get approved.

“This is a protest for the not knowing or the waiting period to hear the answer of the date,” said Kenady. “I’m sorry—my employees, and their employees, and their employees and their employees we all need a set date. We have to have that date. If we had that date, this wouldn’t be an issue.”

The line was out the door at Kenady’s restaurant. Customers said their wait was worth it for the chance to dine somewhere for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We eat out a lot! I really miss sitting at a table and having hot food brought to me and not having to drive it home,” said customer Allison Stuart.

“Just the freedom of getting back out, getting as close to normal as we can. Everybody is going stir crazy,” said customer and restaurant partner Jeff Rhoten.

“We’re ready to open the town back up and get the economy going again,” said customer Sara Gregory.

Kenady said, for his restaurant, time is of the essence. He explained 80 percent of his employees are from the Department of Corrections work release program and substance abuse recovery program. He said his staff thought of the idea to reopen after the pandemic caused some to relapse.

“I’ve lost four employees back to addiction over that. And that to me is far more real than seven cases spread out through our county. They might not be dying from that, but I feel it’s as close to COVID sometimes. And we just don’t want to lose another one,” said Kenady.

Rob Putaansuu, mayor of Port Orchard, said he found “the blatant disregard to social distancing shown in the photos irresponsible.”

In a written statement, Putaansuu said he is working with public health officials to respond appropriately to the restaurant’s reopening.

“If they insist we shut down, we’ll shut down. It’s just about making a statement is all,” said Kenady.

Until then, the restaurant that normally has 350 seats will be open with 125 seats. Several tables are removed, placed at six feet apart and all staff are wearing masks.

“We are pre-sanitizing everything we set on the tables, wrapping our silverware everybody is wearing masks and changing their gloves very frequently,” said Serena Kenady, restaurant supervisor.

A representative from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office explained there is a tiered enforcement process for businesses that violate state orders. The representative said Kenady’s restaurant’s license could get suspended, or at last resort receive a court action from the state Attorney General’s Office.

The Kitsap County Public Health Board is holding a special meeting Wednesday, May 27th, to decide whether to apply for a Phase 2 variance.