Harrisburg has issued a second fine against a Palmyra restaurant that refuses to halt eat-in dining in defiance of orders from Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the restaurant said Wednesday it doesn’t matter how many fines they receive – because they aren’t going to pay them.
A notice hand-delivered to Taste of Sicily, at 132 E. Main St., is dated June 16 and notifies the owners of a second fine – this time, doubled from the first to $2,000. (Read the notice in PDF here.)
The previous fine of $1,000 was announced in a June 3 notice, which also told Taste of Sicily’s owners that their license to serve food had been suspended.
A week later, on June 12, restaurant co-owner Christine Wartluft wrote on Taste of Sicily’s Facebook page that the governor “has crossed a family that will NOT GIVE UP.” Local officials, including state Senator Dave Arnold and state Reps. Russ Diamond and Frank Ryan, held a rally at the restaurant earlier this month to show their support.
The fines and suspension were issued by the state Bureau of Food Safety and Laboratory Services, a division of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Both fines were issued after state inspectors visited the eatery and found it in violation of an order banning eat-in dining because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a department spokeswoman.
Emily Demsey, communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, said earlier this month that the suspension would be lifted if Taste of Sicily ceased dine-in service. If violations continue, she said, they could be subject to fines as hefty as $10,000 per day.
Restaurants and other businesses were shuttered in April by Wolf and state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine to slow the spread of COVID-19. Under current state guidelines, restaurants in Lebanon County may offer only takeout and delivery services, as well as outdoor dining as of June 5.
Taste of Sicily reopened its dining room on May 15. The restaurant does not require patrons to wear masks, which also violates state orders.
Lebanon County Commissioners Bill Ames and Bob Phillips and District Attorney Pier Hess Graf have voiced their opposition to the state’s restrictions. On May 15, the Lebanon County Commissioners approved a non-binding resolution shifting Lebanon County into the “yellow phase” effective Monday, May 18, about two weeks ahead of the state’s timeline.
In the days preceding the first fine, Taste of Sicily received at least two letters from the state warning owners that fines and other penalties were likely if they continued ignoring the ban on eat-in service.
Shannon Powers, press secretary for the state Department of Agriculture, said in an email Wednesday that food safety inspectors visited the restaurant on Tuesday “following up on a complaint that the business was operating with a suspended license.” Once they confirmed the violation, she said, they issued a $2,000 civil penalty.
Inspections are not announced, she said. In a follow-up email, she noted that no schedule has been set for further inspections, but said remaining open while their license is suspended could lead to the full $10,000-per-day penalty.
That amount of the fines doesn’t matter, according to restaurant spokesman Michael Mangano.
“At this point we are not planning on paying any fines that we have received so far,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “We will continue to fight for our right to make an honest living while obviously practicing good and safe business, and sanitary practices.”
“We will most likely go to court at some point whenever that time arrives,” he added. “We will stay the course for sure. We will not close, we will not back down.”
Wartluft, on the restaurant’s Facebook page, was also vocal on the subject.
“Good afternoon everyone! I wanted to share today’s news which is another fine from the Department of Agriculture,” the message says. “Our family will continue to stand strong and stay open thank you everyone again for your amazing support!”
Fans of the restaurant were swift to voice their continued support for Taste of Sicily’s defiance, with messages such as “This is so wrong of them to do this to you,” “The gov’t still engaging in lawlessness; and calling a good business evil. This is a sign of the times,” and “My gosh, I hope you’re able to afford this fines. I know business has been booming but I also realize overhead and the last few months haven’t made things easy.”
The initial notice from the state explained the procedure for appealing the suspension, but said the suspension “will remain in effect during any appeal” unless owners obtain a writ from the department allowing them to remain open.
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