Port Orchard restaurant owner opens dining room, says he'll 'go out swinging' against state's restrictions

As the nation sets new records for COVID-19 pandemic deaths and hospitalizations, more businesses are breaking out of step with Governor Jay Inslee's state restrictions. There are more reports of restaurants serving customers inside their dining rooms.

Thursday was the first day of the season for dine-in service “That One Place” in Port Orchard. Owner Craig Kenady said he opened their dining room because their outdoor seating wasn’t making his staff enough money. He said his team of 45 people asked him to reopen the restaurant, just as he did in protest back on Memorial Day.

“We’re going to make a stand and if we’re going to have to close our doors anyways, why not go out swinging?” said the restaurant owner.

Kenady mentioned most of his staff are also in rehabilitation programs and worried about them having a relapse while struggling to make ends meet.

“That’s not fair to them, it’s not fair to their families. They don’t deserve to be [in arrears] on their rent and not be able to support their family,” said Kenady.

One by one, customers helped themselves to a table inside That One Place throughout the day.

“There’s a lot of restaurants that are starting to say the heck with it and they’re opening up and I absolutely support them. I’ve got a list of the ones that are doing it and every morning I’m going to have breakfast and show my support,” said customer dine-in Dave McMullan.

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

Q13 News witnessed several customers entering and exiting the restaurant without wearing a mask, as the business willingly ignored the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. Some customers said they questioned more than just the requirements.

“Inslee keeps talking about science, but I don’t see the science. The science doesn’t jive,” said dine-in customer Mike Lester.

“Governor Inslee is not showing us the true numbers and there is no science,” said dine-in customer Helen Lester.

The numbers don’t lie, according to the Washington State Department of Health. Officials said the number of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospital patients have doubled from 471 on November 1st to 932 on November 23rd. Plus, ICU patients have increased 75 percent during that same period.

Despite the DOH report, Kenday said he is going to keep his doors on for good.

“I’m sure that they’re going to try to fine us and I’m sure they’re going to take a license away, who knows from there. But we’re prepared and my community has already bucked up and said if I get a fine, they’re paying it for us,” said Kenady.

Some loyal customers still ordered their meals to go but said the food was not worth going inside.

“If people want to risk eating inside, that’s their prerogative. I’m not going to do it just because I don’t know all the people that come in there,” said Mike Blacknall while picking up his to-go order from his car with a mask on.

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries said inspectors are looking into complaints at That One Place. Tim Church, communications director of L&I, said a defiant business could get a citation or fine of up to $9,639 if there is a violation. He also mentioned there could be an issuance of an Order and Notice of Immediate Restraint.

“In a worse case, we have had a situation where we asked a local superior court to issue a temporary restraining order to get a business to comply,” said Church, referring to a café in Lynden.

Church said of all the 14,000 plus complaints L&I has received, only about 20 defiant businesses were cited, showing a high compliance rate. He said the goal is to educate business owners before enforcement.

“We certainly can cite and fine a business, but it’s not where we start out. We’re starting out with wanting to protect the health and safety of the people who work there. They may not say something to their boss because they’re afraid of getting fired. But that doesn’t mean they’re not fearful of going to work during the day and fearful that they’re bringing something home that could sicken or kill somebody in their household.”

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board suspended That One Place’s liquor license for five days back in the spring for violations. A representative for the board said investigators will be looking into this case as well.

Kenady said he has a lawyer as the situation develops.