CLAYTON, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- Five St. Louis County restaurants are weighing their options: continue defying a ban on indoor dining or be forced to close their doors completely.
St. Louis County health officials sent out sternly-worded letters threatening to revoke the restaurant's permits and liquor licenses as a final straw for violating public health orders.
“When diners are in a restaurant, eating, they are not wearing masks and this poses a clear danger of transmission of COVID-19,” said Christopher Ave with the St. Louis County Health Department.
The county is now cracking down after the indoor dining ban was imposed two weeks ago.
County officials visited 13 restaurants and bars over the weekend and found five repeatedly breaking the rules: Bartolino’s South, Acapulco Restaurant and Lounge, OT's Bar, Final Destination and Satchmo’s Bar and Grill. Officials handed them letters saying continued violations will result in suspension or revocation of their operating permits and liquor licenses.
“These last few holdout restaurants are the ones we are alerting right now that you need to stop violating the order or you will not be allowed to legally operate,” Ave said, who added it's no different from how they can shut down a restaurant for other health code violations.
“You have speed limits and seat belt laws for driving to keep people safe. It’s the same thing with restaurants. There is a health department for a reason and one of the reasons is to make sure the dining experience is safe,” Ave said.
But the owner of Satchmo's says first, officials threatened lawsuits or even criminal charges.
“The arbitrary nature of the threats seems like its reflective of the arbitrary nature of the orders in the first place,” said Ben Brown.
He says restaurants have gone to extreme measures to keep people safe, saying he will have to layoff half his staff without indoor dining.
“There are real people who have mortgages to pay and mouths to feed. That’s why I am doing this, I feel like someone has to stand up for these people,” Brown said.
Until they actually take his license or permits, he's going to stay open and call the county's bluff.
“It doesn’t matter what they threaten because I know in my heart what I am doing what’s right,” Brown said.
The health department says they have studies and numerous instances from their contact tracers of people contracting the coronavirus in restaurants and at happy hours.
Ave says they will be taking action immediately and they're not done inspecting restaurants and taking complaints.