A restaurant in Washington state that racked up hundreds of thousands in fines for violating COVID-19 restrictions closed permanently this weekend, citing an inability to hire staff and difficulties getting food supplies delivered on time.
The establishment, Spiffy's Restaurant and Bakery, continued to stay open for indoor dining at the peak of the pandemic, defying a state order that required restaurants to only offer outdoor or take-out service. In total, the diner was charged over $400,000 in fines.
"Many businesses are being adversely effected by an economic anomaly going on in Lewis County and elsewhere in the state. After a year and a half of Governor imposed restrictions on business, many people remain on employment assistance and find that they make more money staying at home," the restaurant wrote on its Facebook page. "Businesses (are) finding it difficult to hire employees and the domino effect of not having enough drivers to get product onto to store shelves."
The statement continued to say that the restaurant is finding it "almost impossible to find workers" and "experienced difficulties" in their supply chain. Restaurant across the country have struggled to hire workers, and while some have blamed this on increased unemployment benefits, economists have said the payments are "not a major factor in the unemployment rate." Many states have ended the increased federal benefits, and all federal unemployment assistance is set to expire in September.
The restaurant owner, Rod Samuelson, who opened the restaurant more than 50 years ago, told NBC affiliate KING 5 he would be appealing the fines. The social media statement said that the state had "cut his penalties in half to $240,000" and that Samuelson had stated that the "Attorney General's office indicated it would forego the fines altogether but the Governor (Jay Inslee) won't relent."
Spiffy's had also been served with a temporary restraining order, which was voided in January, intended to keep the restaurant from operating its dining room.
Employees from the restaurant created a GoFundMe page in December 2020 to "raise funds to help with legal bills, operating expenses and supplies." The page raised just over $8,500 and had a goal of $50,000. In the GoFundMe's description, the restaurant employees called the legal dispute the "fight of our life" and expressed concern that the coronavirus-related closures were unconstitutional.
On Facebook, the restaurant framed Samuelson's refusal to close during the pandemic as an act of service to diners and staff.
"(Samuelson) kept his employees and customers in mind when he fought against the Governor's restaurant restrictions and kept his business open to indoor dining during the pandemic," wrote the establishment.