‘Put me in jail’ — Montclair restaurant defies orders limiting capacity
MONTCLAIR — The owner of a restaurant that has been cited at least three times for exceeding Gov. Phil Murphy's executive orders limiting indoor dining capacity says he can't survive if he follows the rules.
Cuban Pete's Restaurant & Tapas was mentioned by State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan during Murphy's news conference on Monday "for being well in excess of the capacity limit."
Indoor dining at restaurants is currently limited to 25% of capacity excluding employees. Tables must also be a at least 6 feet apart with a maximum of eight customers per table. Diners must wear masks unless they are eating or drinking.
Dominick Restaino is not only exceeding capacity but is disregarding social distancing protocols. His normal capacity is 292 indoors and 88 outside.
"I have no plexiglass. Masks I'm all for but I'm not for the 25% capacity. Either we're open or we're not," Restaino told New Jersey 101.5. "If you're afraid to go out, don't go out. The other people want to go out, leave them alone. It's a free country. That's what America is."
He said it's impossible to run a restaurant at 25% capacity and setting up tables 6 feet apart would put him out of business.
"The reason I'm open is because I need money. I have bills, I have a mortgage, I got taxes, I got a lot of bills piling up on my kitchen table right now. It's terrible," Restaino said.
He says people are in a panic over the coronavirus and says people just have to be careful until a vaccine is available.
"It's like the measles again. The chicken pox. It's the same thing. Don't get me wrong, it's scary but why can kids go to school and we can't go to restaurants?" Restaino said. "You go to Home Depot, it's packed. Why is Home Depot packed and I can't be packed?"
Epidemiologists say that crowded events and gatherings, particularly at bars and restaurants, are one of the riskiest places in a pandemic. People are less likely to contract the virus outdoors or when they can spread out for short periods of times in buildings with more square footage, air circulation and higher ceilings.
At least 14,363 people have died in New Jersey since March, among the 210,000 who have died in the United States. New COVID-19 cases have been inching upward in New Jersey since the summer.
Restaino said he invited the governor to have dinner at the restaurant so he could explain the restaurant business and the impact his executive orders are having.
Restaino said he hired back all his workers when indoor dining reopened at 25% at the beginning of September, anticipating it would increase to 50% a week or two later and full capacity within a month.
"But no, he's not doing nothing. He wants to shut us down again, I heard," Restaino said.
Restaino says a lot of other restaurant owners in Montclair and elsewhere are afraid to speak out and defy the executive orders but he is taking a stand. He said he's been issued three summonses so far by Montclair police and the Essex County Prosecutor's Office.
"They want to put me in jail. I don't care. Put me in jail, I told them. This is what I'm doing. I'm a restaurant owner. You gave me permits from the health department, you gave me permits from the fire department, you gave me permits from the state. I'm staying open," Restaino said
Montclair police and the state Department of Health on Wednesday afternoon did not return messages from New Jersey 101.5.