Taste of Sicily’s license to serve food has been suspended.
In a notice dated June 3, the state Bureau of Food Safety and Laboratory Services, a division of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, notified the Palmyra restaurant’s owner, Silvana Drill, that the eatery’s license to sell food had been suspended, effective immediately.
According to co-owner Christine Wartluft, posting on the restaurant’s Facebook page, Taste of Sicily will continue serving customers despite the suspension.
“I immediately called my Attorney and he asked me how I wanted to proceed,” she wrote, “and I YELLED AND SAID I AM STAYING OPEN AND WE ARE GONNA FIGHT!!! Wolf and Levine DO NOT INTIMIDATE ME AND I WILL FIGHT UNTIL JUSTICE IS SERVED.”
In a brief statement from state Senator Dave Arnold’s office, Arnold said he will join local, state, and federal officials at a news conference at the eatery at 11:30 a.m. Friday “to show support for local businesses that want to reopen without the fear of having their operating licenses suspended or revoked by the state.”
Arnold was not available for further comment, according to spokesman Greg Moreland.
Emily Demsey, communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, confirmed that inspectors returned to the restaurant on Wednesday and “delivered the attached notice of suspension as a result of continued dine-in service being offered.” (See it here in PDF form.)
“To have their license suspension lifted, Taste of Sicily would need to cease dine-in service and have this confirmed by an inspector,” Demsey said in an email Thursday. “If the facility continues operating with a suspended a license, they will be subject to civil penalties of up to $10,000 per day/violation.”
Restaurants and other businesses were shuttered by orders of Gov. Tom Wolf and state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Taste of Sicily, at 132 E. Main St., reopened its dining room on May 15 in defiance of the statewide ban on eat-in dining at restaurants in counties in the red or yellow phase of Wolf’s plan to reopen Pennsylvania’s businesses during the pandemic. Under current state guidelines, restaurants in Lebanon County may offer only takeout and delivery services.
Lebanon County Commissioners on May 15 approved a non-binding resolution shifting Lebanon County into the yellow phase of the plan ahead of schedule, and District Attorney Pier Hess Graf said in a statement that her office would not take legal action against Lebanon County business that reopened if they complied with the Wolf administration’s April 15 order requiring businesses to take certain measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as insisting that customers wear masks.
Taste of Sicily does not require customers to wear masks.
On May 27 and June 1, Taste of Sicily received letters warning that fines and other penalties were likely if the restaurant remained open for eat-in business.
The letters said the restaurant’s decision to allow eat-in dining “is troubling in that it runs counter to the mitigation efforts others throughout the entire Commonwealth are engaging in, places individuals at risk of harm and greatly increases the likelihood of spreading COVID-19,” and it warned that failure to comply with the order “will result in action against your business,” which could include fines of up to $10,000 per day of the violation, up to 30 days of incarceration, and suspension of the restaurant’s operating license.
Shannon Powers, press secretary for the state Department of Agriculture, said recently the department was “following up on 284 complaints of retail food facilities” that were violating Wolf’s orders, including 55 restaurants in the state that were offering eat-in service.
The notice, a copy of which was provided to LebTown by Demsey, states that the “authority to issue and enforce orders to protect the public health is granted to the Secretary of Health under the law,” and “the Secretary has the authority to take any disease control measure appropriate to protect the public from the spread of infectious disease.”
Taste of Sicily, the notice declares, “is in violation of those public-health related statutes and thereby jeopardizing public health” and orders that the restaurant “shall immediately cease operations as a retail food facility.”
The notice explains the procedure for appealing the suspension, but says the suspension “will remain in effect during any appeal” unless owners obtain a writ from the department allowing them to remain open.
Michael Mangano, Wartluft’s brother and a spokesman for Taste of Sicily, said Thursday he had no further comment at this time, and that his sister’s statement on Facebook speaks for itself.
In a video message posted to Facebook earlier this week, Mangano criticized Wolf and Levine for enforcing the shutdown against his family.
“You got riots going on. You got looters looting. You got people setting things on fire,” he said. “And you want to come down on me and my mother and our family for going to work. … You have got to be kidding me.”
In her message on Facebook, Wartluft said she is “exhausted mentally and physically” from the ordeal.
“THE LAST TIME I CHECKED, I BELIEVE MY BIRTH CERTIFICATE STATED THAT I WAS BORN IN THE U.S.A.,SO…I AM GOING TO EXERCISE MY CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS!” she wrote. “This is no disrespect to Authority, but when you tell me I have no right to put food on my table… THAN WE HAVE A MAJOR ISSUE!”
She thanked the people who have supported the businesses since reopening, along with public officials including Arnold, state Reps. Russ Diamond and Frank Ryan, County Commissioner Bill Ames, and District Attorney Pier Hess Graf for their support.
“So many of you keep telling me to stay in the fight, and my friends… WE ARE GONNA CONTINUE TO STAY OPEN AND OFFER INDOOR DINING,” Wartluft wrote. “There are SO MANY SUPPORTERS!! What an Army Taste Of Sicily is surrounded with!!”
Her post received many messages of support.
“Thank you for not backing down! It’s time for people to quit talking and start doing!” wrote CJ Trout.
“Ultimately, what the state is showing ALL of us is how irrelevant they and their ‘license’ actually is,” added Josiah Martin. “Why should the state have the power to deny your ability to feed your family?? FIGHT IT!!”
While the majority of messages lauded Taste of Sicily’s stance, some argued the restaurant should be following state guidelines.
“You could have still had your business open in a legal fashion following the rules set by the state. Instead you are insisting on breaking them. These are the consequences,” wrote Samantha Schroeder. “The whole world is social distancing/quarantining, yet PA, and especially restaurants like yours, think it’s their right to infect others. That’s basically what you are saying by remaining open in the fashion that you are choosing.”
Wartluft responded: “THIS IS NOT ABOUT COVID.. THIS IS A POLITICAL MOVEMENT PERIOD!!”
Senator Arnold, in a post to his official Facebook page, invited people to attend the event Friday at the restaurant, which he says “has unnecessarily come under attack by the Wolf Administration for wanting to work.”
Besides himself, he says officials at the event will include Senator Doug Mastriano, Congressman Dan Meuser, state Reps. Diamond and Ryan, and commissioners Ames and Bob Phillips.
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