Claims Jersey Shore Establishments 'Flagrantly Violating' Dining Restrictions as Matter of Survival
KENILWORTH, NJ — Attilio Guarino, owner of Ava's Kitchen & Bar in Kenilworth, says enough is enough and plans to open for indoor dining on Tuesday, September 8.
Nearly all restaurants, except those that can open two walls for better ventilation, have been banned from serving food and beverage indoors since Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order back in mid-March. As restaurants throughout the state close permanently due to hardships, Guarino says it's time for Murphy to allow restaurants to open for indoor dining or compensate them to remain closed.
"Small businesses can't take this much longer," he said. "We are seeing restaurants close left and right. Mom-and-pop restaurants don't have money to operate like this for months at a time. It takes thousands of dollars a month to operate a restaurant. Takeout, delivery, and a few tables outside doesn't even put a dent into my expenses."
In a Facebook post on August 27, Guarino said that he has witnessed first hand shore town establishments not complying with the governor's dining restrictions. "I recently visited the Jersey Shore and observed restaurants and bars flagrantly violating your executive orders. Is this because local Jersey Shore officials are wisely turning a blind eye toward the businesses’ insubordination? Is it because the local officials there understand that allowing their local restaurant and bar businesses to succeed plays a crucial part in the local Jersey Shore economy?," he asked.
"Let’s assume that they do understand that. Then would it be fair to say that every local economy, all over New Jersey, is dependent on the restaurant and bar businesses to keep their respective local economies thriving? That without restaurants and bars their downtown districts would turn into ghost towns?," he continued in the post.
"I recently visited the Jersey Shore and observed restaurants and bars flagrantly violating your executive orders. Is this because local Jersey Shore officials are wisely turning a blind eye toward the businesses’ insubordination? Is it because the local officials there understand that allowing their local restaurant and bar businesses to succeed plays a crucial part in the local Jersey Shore economy?
— Attilio Guarino, owner of Ava's Kitchen & Bar, Kenilworth
Guarino says that he hopes in the coming days Murphy will announce a date for indoor dining to return and that he won't have to open in defiance. He added that along with his restaurant, he has verbal commitments from 50 other restaurants across New Jersey that plan to join his movement and open for indoor seating on September 8.
While he did not mention specific names, he said the restaurants are across Monmouth, Union and Hudson County — and the list continues to grow each day.
"If Gov. Murphy comes out and says indoor dining can resume on say September 15, I won't open on the 8th. I'll wait." said Guarino. "But as of now, we've been left in the dark with no end in sight and everybody is suffering. It's not just the restaurants. It's the food providers. The liquor distributors. It goes on and on."
Guarino acknowledged that some restaurants are doing some of their best numbers ever with outdoor seating, but restaurants like his that don't have a big outdoor area to set up tables continue to suffer.
"I understand people are still nervous of COVID-19. But those people can choose to dine outside, get takeout, or get delivery. They don't have to dine inside," said Guarino. "But if you want to dine inside, that should be allowed too. What's going to happen when it gets too cold?"
Guarino said he will open at a limited capacity with safely distanced tables and booths, and not offer seating at the bar. Customers will be required to have a mask on when not seated at their table. The restaurant will also continue to offer outdoor seating, takeout, and delivery for those who choose to not eat inside. He also has assured his staff that anyone who is not comfortable working is allowed to stay home and will not face any repercussions.
Meanwhile, Monmouth County Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone issued another statement on August 25, urging Murphy to "either permit restaurants to host indoor dining or, at least, put together a staged plan with dates on when this next phase will begin."