New Hampshire restaurant shuts its doors rather than enforce mask mandate

"We can either exist in fear, and hope to not die, or we can live knowing eventually we're all going to die," owner Joe Bodge said.

The owners of a New Hampshire restaurant have decided to close their doors rather than abide by a mask mandate.

Joe Bodge and Dorene Heselton closed Roselynn Homemade Ice Cream Breakfast and Lunch in Epping, New Hampshire, on Sunday. A sign on their door now reads, "What Happened to Live Free or Die."

"I have decided, and I'll be honest with you, the sheer volume of my customers and people supporting me believe the same thing — we can either exist in fear, and hope to not die, or we can live knowing eventually we're all going to die," Bodge told NBC News on Thursday.

Roselynn Homemade Ice Cream Breakfast and Lunch in Epping, N.H.Google

Bodge and Heselton said a customer reported them to the state for not wearing masks and not requiring their customers to wear masks. Bodge said he then received a call from the New Hampshire Office of the Attorney General, asking if he was not requiring masks in Roselynn.

"I said, 'Ma'am, as a matter of fact, you are correct.' And there was a pause, and she said, 'So you're not denying it?' And I said, 'We are mask-free here,'" Bodge said.

The official told Bodge that they wouldn't need to investigate if he was readily admitting to not wearing masks at Roselynn, and that he would have until Monday to comply with the mandate or the state would pull the restaurant's license to operate, according to Bodge. Rather than abide by the mandate or have the state close their doors, Bodge and Heselton decided they'd close themselves down until they could reopen without masks.

"We decided the time was to take the stand right then ... I had customers in tears," Bodge said.

Bodge said he can't wear a mask due to anxiety, and that other members of the staff also suffer from illnesses that prevent them from wearing a mask. He said he wears a mask in places that require them, like the grocery store, but that his anxiety is triggered when that happens.

NBC News was not able to immediately verify if there were any medical exemptions for restaurant workers in New Hampshire. Requests for comment to the New Hampshire attorney general and Gov. Christopher Sununu were not immediately returned.

However, the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association reported that the state has Covid-19 guidance requiring restaurant employees in direct contact with customers to wear face coverings.

Bodge said the decision to close has no financial component for him, and that he's willing to close for as long as it takes until he can reopen the restaurant without masks. Bodge said the restaurant is run exclusively by members of his family and so the closure has not resulted in any layoffs.

Since the story of the restaurant's shutdown went public, Bodge said he and Heselton have received death threats, but that they're not concerned because they believe in the Second Amendment.

"I do open carry, and I'm not afraid. I don't live with fear ... I'm not going to live and be afraid of what might happen," Bodge said. "I live for today, hope for tomorrow. That's kind of my motto."