Restaurateur who’d been willing to go to jail backs down after visit by cops
MONTCLAIR — The owner of a restaurant who recently said he'd be willing to go to jail for violating the state's indoor dining restrictions had a change of heart after he was visited by the authorities.
Dominick Restaino is less defiant but still angry about having to operate his restaurant on Bloomfield Avenue at a reduced capacity. He said he was visited by the police the city Health Department, which threatened to close his 16-year-old eatery.
"They were going to close me down. The health department came with the police department and it was scary. For the first time in my life I felt like I'm not American. I felt scared. I've never felt that way before in my life," Restaino told New Jersey 101.5.
Murphy's executive orders limit indoor dining to 25% of capacity and tables must be spaced 6 feet apart. Diners and staff are required to wear face coverings except when eating or drinking.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Restaino said he was willing to go to jail when he was operating at full capacity of 292 seats indoors and 88 outside. He was cited three times by Montclair police for violating Murphy's executive orders.
"I never thought I was above the law, I just thought I was right," Restaino said Wednesday.
Restaino said a Montclair police captain comforted him and handled the situation well.
"He called the prosecutor and they said, 'let him stay open' and they let me stay open. I'm not going to question why," Restaino said.
The lesson Restaino said he learned from this experience: "No one's above the law."
But business is still slow because he says people are afraid to go out and blames Gov. Phil Murphy's executive orders for putting him in this position.
"Who wants to go to a restaurant wearing a mask? Come on. It's hard," Restaino said, adding that he sees no reason restaurants should not be fully open if schools and retailers are.
"If things don't change for me I'll be like all the other people in New York: 50% or more of them are out of business. What are we going to do? We have to get open. All the other states are open. Open Jersey up, please. We need help here," Restaino said.
The coronavirus tends to spread more easily in poorly ventilated settings where people are still for long periods of time. Murphy said no outbreaks have been traced to indoor dining and hopes to raise the capacity level sooner.
Restaurant industry leaders have been pushing Murphy to loosen the indoor dining restrictions as the weather cools and at least one Democratic lawmaker has joined Republicans calling on Murphy to let restaurants serve more people indoors.
“Outdoor dining and 25% indoor capacity were an understandable first step in allowing our restaurants to reopen after the long shutdown. However, after several months of serving customers both inside and outside, these professionals have demonstrated they are more than capable of serving the public, while simultaneously maintaining the health and safety of both staff and patrons," state Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, said Wednesday, adding that Murphy has been "careful and prudent" and open to revisiting his executive orders.
"Expanding the indoor dining limits and revising the indoor dining guidelines now will give these small businesses enough time to prepare their restaurants. More importantly, it will give them a fighting chance to survive," Singleton said.