Chevy’s Fresh Mex continues to ignore COVID-19 orders to halt all outdoor dining and is under investigation by the state.
Solano County Supervisor Erin Hannigan was told by County Environmental Health on Friday that “they received word from the (Chevy’s) general manager in December that Chevy’s will not follow the order.”
The restaurant “has been referred to the state and we are following up with the state on next steps,” Hannigan said, adding that Chevy’s is under investigation by the California Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
The only other Solano County Chevy’s in Fairfield also remains open for outdoor dining, as does the Chevy’s in Santa Rosa.
“These are very difficult times. People have lost jobs. People are sick. People are on the brink of losing their shelter. But it doesn’t make it right,” Hannigan said of Chevy’s “blatant defiance.”
Nicole Hodge, owner of Provisions cafe downtown, fumed in a Facebook posting Thursday and in a Friday morning phone interview.
“If it’s OK for Chevy’s, why isn’t OK for all these small restaurants to open?” said Hodge by phone Friday. “I feel like Chevy’s should be closed and should be fined.”
Though Hodge added that she “doesn’t see anything wrong with outdoor dining, the rules are the rules.”
Ken Ingersoll, owner of Gracie’s restaurant, initially said he “doesn’t know what to think” about Chevy’s stance to remain open.
“I’m following the rules,” Ingersoll said Friday. “I’m not a big corporation that can fight the government. But you’re putting people in desperate situations. They’re in survival mode.”
The City only Thursday became aware that Chevy’s “was and is operating outside the current regional health order requiring all outdoor dining to remain closed,” said Annette Taylor, senior community development analyst.
“We are going to work quickly to rectify this issue because the health and safety of our community is our number one priority,” continued Taylor, adding that the City “is currently reaching out to Solano County Public Health, who is the guiding authority in regards to the enforcement of the Health Order.”
Interim Deputy City Manager Gillian Hayes said a letter is being sent to Chevy’s “stating our position and referring to the state guidelines and county health department.”
There were 10 sit-down diners at the outdoor tented section at Chevy’s around noon Friday. The manager on duty, who declined to be identified, said the decision to remain open was from district manager.
Management and employees at Chevy’s are under instructions from General Manager Rachael Kruse to answer COVID-19 inquiries with the following statement: “We are aware of the current order issued by the state. There is some conflicting direction between the state, county and city levels as far as what restrictions to follow. Along with some restrictions being lifted in several California counties by overseeing judges. We take the safety of our guests and team very seriously. We are following the safety and sanitation guidelines. We believe our decision to remain open is what is best for our team so they may be able to work and continue to provide for their families. All work that provides support to your family is essential to that family.”
Hannigan has been aware of the Chevy’s controversy since Dec. 27 when she received a text that the Vallejo restaurant remained open for indoor dining as well as outdoors.
“I called them and asked if I could get a table for two and whoever answered the phone said, ‘inside or out?’” said Hannigan, eventually telling a manager that she wanted the restaurant “compliant like other businesses.”
“He said ‘It’s not me that makes the decision,’” said Hannigan, given a phone number of the regional manager in Seattle.
Hannigan said she explained the state protocols “and he thanked me for letting him know and I didn’t think anything else of it.”
When Hannigan saw Hodge’s Facebook post, she concluded that Chevy’s management shined her on.
“It infuriates me that this guy in Seattle thinks he can get way with it,” Hannigan said, agreeing with Hodge “100 percent” that if “mom and pop” restaurants have to close, corporate restaurants should as well.
It’s not that Hannigan doesn’t believe outdoor dining should be allowed.
“I get the indoor thing,” she said. “The outdoor thing? I don’t understand.”
Hannigan cited data indicating indoor family gatherings at home and not outdoor dining is the culprit of the recent COVID-19 spikes.
Still, she emphasized, if one restaurant has to abide by state orders, they all should.
Ingersoll agreed with Hannigan that there’s no data linking the recent COVID-19 spike to outdoor dining.
“Again, I’m just a little restaurant. My family depends on me to make the right decisions,” Ingersoll said, taking a swipe at Gov. Gavin Newsom opening up the Sacramento region earlier this week, including outdoor dining.
“I guess two plus two equals a goat and a fish,” Ingersoll said.
Chevy’s “was aware of the risk” in remaining open, said Ishmael Palacio, owner of Bambino’s downtown.
“Good for them. I wish more businesses had the balls to open up,” Palacio said, upset that “the state has never given us any data” justifying the ban on outdoor dining.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Palacio said. “We have employees unable to work. If they showed some data that this (COVID-19 spike) is because of outdoor dining, I’d be content. They need to show some numbers.”
Again, said Palacio, Chevy’s is aware of the risks and potential fines.
As a small business, “I don’t have the resources” to defy orders, Palacio said.
The order to cease anything but take-out “is killing us,” said Hodge, contemplating an immediate solution.
“I’m thinking about hanging up a Chevy’s sign,” she said. “I can make some chips.”