Official from “governor’s taskforce” shuts down cafe’s attempt to reopen

Carolina Cafe in Spindale tried to reopen dine-in service using social distancing

Carolina Cafe in East Spindale. Image via Google Earth.

RALEIGH — A small restaurant in Spindale, North Carolina attempted to re-open for dine-in service earlier this week while employing social distancing methods and taking safety precautions, but was stopped by law enforcement and a state official.

On May 13, the Carolina Cafe in Spindale announced on Facebook that they would open for inside dining the following day. The restaurant is a family business, owned and operated by Michael Spina and Linda Fortner.

According to Spina, just after opening the restaurant was visited by a female representative from the governor’s office, a fire marshal and a Rutherford County sheriff’s deputy. He did not name any of the officials.

North State Journal reached out to Gov. Roy Cooper’s office seeking the identity of the official. The governor’s office has yet to respond. The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Communications did send a reply.

“Enforcement of Governor Cooper’s Executive Orders is up to local law enforcement, I suggest reaching out to them for more information about this,” wrote Communications Manager Kelly Haight Connor.  “We are not aware of a member of the governor’s task force being in Spindale.”

The restaurant had closed every other table, which would keep customers ten feet apart. The staff was also wearing masks and gloves.

We went to every other booth, put the x’s down –  we did everything we were supposed to,” said Spina in a Facebook video update, adding that he was told, “you can’t do it, it’s a class 2 misdemeanor, you could get a fine.”

“Well, what I did not know is if you do not comply with the governor’s order, this particular representative of the government taskforce could take your health certificate away,” Spina said. “So you just could not do it. They are going to lock your doors. That’s what’s going to happen.”

Spina said that “they were very nice about it” and were just doing their job. He said he thinks “enough is enough with this” and that we need to “keep moving forward.”

The owners of the cafe said they cannot keep operating this way and survive, adding that Carolina Cafe is designed to be a sit-in restaurant, not a take-out one. In an interview with local media,  Fortner said they had lost two-thirds of their daily business, going from serving three hundred customers a day to barely 100.

According to the owners not knowing “when this will end” is adding to the frustration. Fortner expressed frustration with other stores being able to open up but not theirs.

According to the map tracking cases in North Carolina, Spindale has only seen 25 cases and a single death. Rutherford County overall has seen 153 cases and 5 deaths.

On May 1, the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA) sent a letter to Cooper urging him to reopen restaurants as most of them were now in trouble.

“They have been the most devastated of any industry, with the current prohibitions on dine-in service leading to more than 300,000 restaurant employees being laid off or furloughed and nearly 70% of all restaurant locations closed or operating at very limited capacity,” the letter reads.  “With each passing day, the outlook becomes more dire for these businesses to survive.”

The NCRLA recently surveyed its members. Of those surveyed, 65% said their business wouldn’t re-open if it remained closed for two months or more. In addition, 77% said sales were down 70% or more and only 35% of those who applied for the PPP federal relief program received loans.

According to the NCRLA, there were 481,900 jobs in the foodservice and restaurant industry in North Carolina, which represented around 11% of employment in the state. In 2018, there were 19,504 eating and drinking establishments generating an estimated $21.4 billion in sales.

About A.P. Dillon 976 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_