A Texas restaurant is taking a stance against anti-maskers with a cheeky sign that anticipates what critics will say.
Signage posted throughout both locations of Ellen's restaurant in the Dallas area announces to diners that masks are once again required unless patrons are seated, due to the rising number of coronavirus cases. But the business took the announcement a step further by also including responses to anyone who might question the policy or harass staff as "sheep" or "communists."
"We know what we endured last year when we did this, so we're just going to preemptively strike and say, 'This is what you call us and this is our response,'" the restaurant's co-founder and CEO Joe Groves told TODAY Food.
As an example, this is the restaurant's comeback to anyone who calls staff "anti-American" or a "traitor": "Just exercising our rights here." And for anyone who thinks the restaurant will suffer a loss of business? "Oh, and please don't assume we will go bankrupt because of this," the sign reads. "We survived death threats from NRA wack-jobs, so we should be OK not serving you meatloaf today."
Groves said that bringing back the mask policy was common sense, given the health crisis in Dallas County, where officials recently moved the COVID-19 threat level back to red, the most severe risk level.
"We're in crisis mode again," Groves said. "They're comparing it to the way it was in the winter. And it's just silly — there's a way to prevent this. We don't want to shut down again and we don't want to go through what we did last spring, so we've got to do something."
Many restaurants across the U.S. have brought back mask policies as cases of the highly transmissible delta variant continue to rise. It's become common throughout the pandemic for establishments to use creative signage to announce where they stand — like the Seattle food truck that posted a relatable sign about how to wear a mask properly, or, on the flip side, the California restaurant whose sign said it will only serve unvaccinated diners, or the Florida restaurant whose sign announced that "face diapers" aren't required.
Groves said his sign, which was also shared on social media, was a way to get ahead of the harassment he said his staff faced earlier in the pandemic, when the mask rule was first initiated.
"We had a lady write a note to one of our bartenders saying the reason that she wasn't tipping is because her face diaper has clouded her judgment and that this is the reason that he will always be a servant to people like her, because he's a sheep," Groves said. "And it's just … why? Why? What in the world makes you think that that's OK to do?"
Groves said that most customers have been pleased with the restaurant's decision to require masks, although there has been some criticism. And while the restaurant took a hit when it closed at the beginning of the pandemic, Groves said business is now up 20% above pre-pandemic levels.
"We're a good restaurant, for one thing, but people also appreciate that we care about them," he said. "And that we're not just going to roll over."
"We're all angry about this," Groves added. "We're just as angry on this side about protecting one another. And it's about time that those of us who care about one another express that anger — and I'm doing it. I'm tired of saying, 'Aw, well, everyone has the right to their opinion.' No, you don't! You're affecting everyone."
The restaurant has a history of taking a stance on political issues. After the shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, the restaurant began printing a note on receipts announcing that it was donating part of its proceeds to organizations supporting gun regulations. The move earned criticism from the National Rifle Association and Groves said he even received death threats, which are referenced on the most recent signage about masks.