Local restaurants and their employees’ lives are being destroyed by government mandates

Eric Scheffer/Photo by John Warner


Dear city of Asheville mayor, City Council and city manager; Buncombe County Board of Commissioners chairman, Board of Commissioners and county manager (plus Asheville Independent Restaurant Association members and the media):

I echo the sentiments of so many of my fellow culinarians, such as Michel Baudouin, owner of Bouchon downtown and RendezVous in East Asheville, and the rest of the hospitality community: Enough is enough!

You’re not to blame for these unprecedented times; however, you are responsible for the response or lack thereof.

My heart aches for my fellow restaurateurs, their employees and their families. Each day we are losing another restaurant, then another, then another. We are being systematically destroyed by our local, state and federal government mandates.

These mandates are about optics, not facts. Why has no one spoken to our segment of the business community to attain the real facts?

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, has said that no specific type of setting is responsible for the increase in cases and the virus’s spread, according to the News & Observer (avl.mx/8vs).

Meanwhile, research released in September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the risks of eating in restaurants has been criticized as flawed. Among those critical voices is an N.C. State University food science expert who helped develop North Carolina’s program of best safety practices for restaurants during the pandemic, according to Raleigh’s WNCN (avl.mx/8vt).

Additionally, LAist, part of Southern California Public Radio, summarizes recent studies on the issue (avl.mx/8vu) and notes: “Still, none of these studies can definitively prove that restaurant dining causes infections, researchers say. That would require robust contact tracing.”

Different standards

Why have other segments of our business community been given a pass or not held to the same mandated standards as restaurants are? These mandates affect our farmers, our poultry and beef growers and our fishermen, to name a few in the state of North Carolina.

I spoke to managers and/or workers at seven major grocery stores and big box stores in Asheville, who spoke to me candidly, yet confidentially. All of the stores mentioned have an average of 600 to 1,800 customers per day, some even more. On Christmas Eve, the vast majority of those stores saw their customer base double, and in some cases, triple!

While each store has mandatory mask requirement signs, every manager told me that at least 10%-15% of their consumers refuse to wear masks, and they are not enforcing the mandate. A few points:
• There is no social distancing enforced.
• There are no occupancy numbers enforced (except for one of them).
• There is no temperature checking.
• There is no regularly scheduled sanitizing of surfaces. For stores that have prepared foods and salad bars, there is no monitoring of exposed foods, prepared foods and/or the salad bars. Utensils are being used over and over again, with no monitoring or sanitizing.
• There is no sanitizing or policing addressing individuals touching fruits and vegetables as they are fondled, then placed right back on shelves or bins they originated from.
• There is no cleaning of debit card machines after each use.
• Sanitizing of shopping carts is done when they have enough employees available, but not regularly anymore.
• Customers are allowed to touch computers, cellphones and electronics without sanitizing after each contact.
That’s just a small amount I learned on my own in a four-hour period of time! Where’s the virus spread?

At one big box store, after asking a manager why so many people were not wearing masks, and there seemed to be no enforcement, her reaction was, “We are told if a customer is asked to put on a mask, and they refuse due to personal issues, we are not allowed to pursue or mandate they wear a mask.” Where’s the spread?

Why are the big box stores getting a pass?

Singled out

Our industry has been one of the driving forces of our community’s financial success and an industry that has become the lifeblood of Asheville as a destination. We also are the most responsible when it comes to public health. We have to be; we are regulated to be.

Here is what I know:
• The majority of restaurants, bars and breweries enforce and maintain a “no mask, no service” policy.
• The majority of restaurants, bars and breweries enforce sanitation procedures of cleaning every table after each use/service, to include bathrooms and all exposed surfaces on a regular schedule.
• The majority of restaurants, bars and breweries already follow strict health department rules for sanitizing all surfaces in the front and back of the house regularly. We are regulated to do so.
• Many restaurants are temperature checking.
• Many restaurants are contact tracing.
• The majority of restaurants, bars and breweries are successfully enforcing occupancy numbers.
• The majority of restaurants, bars and breweries have created spaces, both outdoor and inside, to allow for reasonable social distancing.
• Many restaurants, bars and breweries have installed air purification systems, costing the owners thousands of dollars.
• Many restaurants, bars and breweries have an entrance/exit policy to control the flow and to ensure social distancing.
• The majority of restaurants have instituted noncontact to-go services.
• The majority of restaurants, bars and breweries have complied with all mandates.
• The majority of restaurants, bars and breweries have an occupancy of 50 persons or fewer at any one given time.
• Restaurants, bars and breweries that contribute to charities and feeding the homeless are now stopped from helping an already underserved population that the county and city fall short of helping.
And yet, for optics, leaders state that we are the problem?

Another cruel blow

A reduction to 30% occupancy for restaurants: This is a real head-scratcher because it’s a mandate that is difficult to directly track results and will do nothing but deliver another cruel blow to so many who have been barely hanging on!

Where is the science? Where are the facts? Where is the humanity in any of it?

Hospitality and culinary professionals are being mandated and regulated out of business for the sake of optics and at the senseless sacrifice of hardworking people and their families.

The ability of individuals to provide for their families and their employees is being taken away. Your constituents’ life savings and everything they have worked for is being destroyed. It is impossible for individuals to pay their rent and to feed their children.

Our local economy is being devastated.

All of this is without a plan to financially support those you mandated out of business, into a new life of poverty and homelessness!

The strategy has been to mandate, destroy and cripple, then we’ll figure out how and if we can financially support our community — all without a plan to deal with the mental health effects of long-term unemployment and loss of income.

All without simple dialogue with the hospitality and culinary professionals to see how we could work together to create a fact- and science-based approach to keeping our economy alive.

It takes courage to lead. It takes compassion to lead. Not self-interest, optics, politics and the worst of all: leaving us with a deafening silence from our leaders.

All while politicians — no matter whether local, state or federal — are still getting paid, getting access to health insurance and are still enjoying the perks of being politically privileged.

This is not about politics or the blame game. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats. It’s caring about your fellow human being.

I am begging you to stop the insanity and to be courageous and compassionate enough to save the lives that are being destroyed in Buncombe County.

Eric Scheffer is an Asheville resident of 26 years and has been a local restaurateur for over 21 years.


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26 thoughts on “Local restaurants and their employees’ lives are being destroyed by government mandates

  1. bsummers

    Let us never forget that this situation is far worse now, than it needed to be. Starting almost a year ago, Trump and his supporters convinced a sizable portion of the population to reject basic precautions because He felt it was bad for his re-election chances. Local voices urged people to reject masks etc. like it was a communist takeover, ignoring health experts recommendations.

    Almost 500,000 dead, and infections rising rather than falling. Where would we be now if everyone had embraced shutting down temporarily, wearing a mask, etc. back in March/April of last year? A far better place, I’d wager.

    I’m sorry that local businesses are struggling. But rejecting scientific experts a second time around isn’t likely to bring a different result.

    Just remember who did this to us.

    • NFB

      Thank you. Yet another totally spot on comment from bsummers.

      I grieve for the people whose livelihoods are at stake in this pandemic, I just wish people like Mr. Scheffer and those in the “I need a haircut” crowd could acknowledge that some people’s LIVES are at stake and that this is something else entirely.

    • Deb Maddox

      You had to bring politics into it, didn’t you? Sigh. As the author said, this is a HUMAN issue. Please try to identify yourself into the larger whole.

      • NFB

        Politics was brought into it by the ant-mask brigade whining about “freedom” and how concern for others in a global is “socialism..”

        The pandemic is a science and human health issue. It is trump and his cult who turned those into political ones

        • Jim

          “Science” said Masks have no effect, even the great and wonderful Fauchi wrote a paper on deaths cause by bacterial infection in the 1918 flu due to wearing masks, as well as having previously saying they had no effect.

    • Liam

      I recall Fauci stating in January of 2020 that this Coronavirus would not be a threat to the American public. In March of 2020, he claimed face masks would serve little or no purpose to reduce its spread. Fauci and the CDC altered their recommendations numerous times. The mixed messages have occurred since the beginning of this virus outbreak. There’s plenty of blame to go around.

      • Dopamina

        Weird, it’s almost like they were learning as they went along…which I suppose they were. People seen to really get flustered that science doesn’t always get things right the first time :(

        But once the CDC changed it’s tune about masks, they were pretty damn consistent.

        Contrast that with the behaviors of some our politicians and some pundit and celebrities…

      • Dopamina

        He’s your gov for another 4 years, better clutch those pearls a little tighter!

    • Fred

      California has been extremely shut down for some time, how’s that working out for them? Our local and state leaders did this to us. Quit whining about trump, he’s gone so it’s time to focus you derangement syndrome towards someone or something else.

  2. Don Yelton

    All you restaurant owners and workers look at the last County Commissioners meting that would not let citizens attend even with social distancing and masks. Actually public comment occurred the last two meetings concerning the 30%. I understand that is just Buncombe County under the leadership of Brownie Newman. 5 of the & follow his lead.
    Nuff said.

  3. Smith

    This is in a city which is not even allowing children to go back to school. Mainly because the teachers don’t want to. And let’s be clear our numbers are down. Even the hospital has eased restrictions. We have leaders who base their decisions on fear and not facts. Liberal logic. Cooper didn’t even follow his own metrics. The original shutdown did nothing but delay the surge. And now we shall forever pay the price.

  4. Dopamina

    The fact that these big box store are allowed to take a hands-off approach really is not fair or consistent. Don’t get me started on Ingles, worst kind of predatory capitalists!

    I do agree with the author that oddly restaurants do seem like they are being unfairly targeted when there are plenty of repeat offender businesses operating with impunity. Granted people do have to remove a mask to eat or drink, once you give people an inch they tend to become a ruler and don’t like to put their mask back on…

    In my opinion, the only medical condition that precludes you from having to wear a mask is solely a mental one of your own creation :P

    • Jim

      Oh, boo hoo, Ingles has been allowed to operate while small stores are not, tell it to your governor.

  5. Lou

    Local restaurants and their employees’ lives are being destroyed by covid-19. There, fixed it for you. Stop making this virus and pandemic about politics. If we had had a real president in the beginning of all this mess, things would not be nearly as bad. You can also thank local residents who believe themselves to be above the mask mandate and continue to spread this disease. Just last week while shopping at ingles, I observed an entire family of four with no masks, taking the tops off of various deodorants and sniffing them and breathing all over them. Ignorance breeds ignorance.

  6. James

    Thanks for the list of restaurants to avoid when this is all over. People who don’t seem to care about OUR physical health shouldn’t be surprised when we don’t care about their financial health when this is over. We’re trading with friends and neighbors the names of places that blatantly violated or opposed the sensible, horribly necessary restrictions in place. (Lowe’s, Burger King on Tunnel Road, Biltmore Fitness etc.).

    Knowing that you are resisting THESE health and safety rules and requirements makes us all wonder what OTHER rules you are refusing to comply with or complain about… Rats? Hand-washing after using the toilet? Food temperature? TB testing for food handlers?

  7. Suzanna

    It seems to me this doesn’t have to be an either-or situation . I don’t know the author’s political leanings or his level of faith in science, but at least in this article he is not denying covid or arguing for zero precautions. To me it sounds like he’s asking for collaboration, for local and state government to have a more systematic process involving restaurant owners and employees to actually get some data about what mandates and precautions make a difference. Perhaps a one size fits all doesn’t work. Maybe it was necessary at the beginning, but we are a year in to this now and we’ve learned a lot. And he points out that the financial safety net for restaurants and their employees has been insufficient. If you are going to force businesses to close there maybe should be some real support. Some types of business are actually thriving MORE during this pandemic, in what borders on exploitation. Let’s spread some resources around. PS: I’m a science-minded person and am taking pandemic precautions very seriously. But I see some of the author’s points.

  8. E. Calhoun

    I whole heartedly agree with this article and support local restaurants and bars that are following guidelines. For those who do not wear masks- you are selfish and ignorant!! Haven’t you seen stories of families that chose to gather for holidays and many were infected, some dying?! Something needs to be done to allow businesses to at least keep there doors open until they can actually thrive again. Everyone please take advantage of take-out if you can’t eat in…

  9. Jay

    Or have restaurant owners and their employees chosen a profession that’s not only overwhelmingly susceptible to economic downturn, over regulation, sky high overhead, flakey staff etc etc, but also the once in a lifetime pandemic…. rule #1 of wanting to own your own business; never own a restaurant.

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