It was Pappy’s Greasy Spoon in downtown Canby that opened Friday and Saturday for in-person dining, in knowing violation of Governor Kate Brown’s orders prohibiting restaurants from offering anything but take-out, curbside pickup and delivery.
Pappy’s owner Mike Merrill told police officers who responded to his location Saturday morning that he was aware of the violation, but “the to-go meals were not cutting it and he has bills to pay.”
Canby police visited Pappy’s at approximately 11:20 a.m., according to the report of the incident, which the Canby Now Podcast obtained on Monday morning. Officers approached the restaurant and saw through the front door that there were approximately eight to 10 people inside, seated at tables and eating from Styrofoam to-go containers.
A waitress was standing near one group of customers, apparently taking an order. As officers walked in, they heard a man seated at one of the tables joke, “Please let us finish our meal before you shut it down.”
Officers then made contact with Merrill, who was in the kitchen, cooking.
“I figured it would be just a matter of time before I saw you guys here,” Merrill reportedly quipped when he saw the police.
Throughout the interaction, he was “very polite and respectful,” said officers, who told him he was welcome to continue offering take-out, but serving customers inside his restaurant was a violation of the current executive order and could put him at risk for being charged with a class C misdemeanor, pursuant to Oregon Revised Statutes 401.990.
According to the report, “he stated numerous times during our conversation that he knew it was not our fault (Canby Police) but he felt he had to stand up for himself and other businesses.”
Merrill explained that he had taken several steps to mitigate the risk to his patrons and staff while attempting to stay open, including keeping every other table closed for social distancing purposes. Tables, utensils and other items were all being sanitized between customers.
Merrill also expressed to the officers his belief that the “coronavirus has been blown out of proportion and the government’s attempt to mitigate it are all just a placebo helping citizens feel better.”
Pappy’s Greasy Spoon is located about a block and a half down the street from Country Side Living, a long-term care facility that serves only residents with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and which has seen 10 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and one death.
Merrill told police he would keep his restaurant seating area closed and make orders for take-out only.
“He is hoping the governor will open restaurants on May 15 and has a plan to mitigate the risk to his patrons at that time,” the report said.
Among those dining in Saturday morning was more than one local elected official, including Canby City Councilor Traci Hensley.
Councilor Hensley did not respond to multiple inquiries from the Canby Now Podcast, but did post a lengthy statement in a local Facebook group Monday evening admitting she was “one of the elected officials who, along with some friends and fellow small business owners, chose to dine in an establishment that was open for business yesterday.”
“No one was forced to sit down and eat, people CHOSE to do so under their own free will or… they could CHOOSE to take their food out to-go,” she wrote. “We chose to support this business and would do so for any that opened. We support our community… it’s the Canby way.”
When asked if she was concerned her explicit support of any local business violating the governor’s executive orders might put the city at risk for liability, she said that she was not.
“My legal counsel advised me that there is zero risk of the city being fined for me eating at a restaurant,” she said.
Hensley estimated the number of people dining inside the restaurant at 20, which is still “far under” the establishment’s maximum occupancy, she said.
“They were operating their business in a responsible manner,” she said of Pappy’s, which she did not name in her statement. “Patrons were enjoying a dining experience in a responsible manner. Folks should be able to have the choice to open their businesses, provide jobs, and get the economy going again.”
The restaurant industry has been among the most devastated segments of an economy ravaged by the Covid-related shutdowns. A report last month from the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association estimated that dining establishments in the state have lost over 81 percent of their workforce — more than 127,000 people.
Nevertheless, the state has been aggressive in pursuing alleged or confirmed violations of the governor’s orders. A bar in Cave Junction had its license suspended in April for allegedly serving customers on the sly (the owner stated they were employees and the tavern was closed).
And the attorney general threatened “significant legal repercussions,” including criminal and civil penalties, to any businesses in Oregon City that reopened before the governor’s orders are lifted.
But frustration continues to grow. At least two personal care businesses in Salem went on record this weekend with plans to either open or stay open in defiance of the governor’s orders, for financial — not political — reasons.
And on social media, numerous local commenters expressed support for the then-unnamed restaurant that had opened its dining room before being visited by police.
“Wish I’d have known,” one person said on our Facebook page. “I’d have been there for breakfast.”
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