NJ health officials shut Lakeside Diner but owner reopens again
LACEY — The owner of an Ocean County diner that has been defiantly serving sit-down customers indoors since June was ordered by the state on Friday to close for the second time.
New Jersey restaurants have been allowed to offer outdoor dining since June when Murphy lifted a shutdown under previous executive orders.
Despite the executive order, Brian Brindisi opened his Lakeside Diner on Route 9 in the Forked River section for indoor dining and kept it open despite getting 10 summonses from township police.
He said he was served with a closure order issued by the state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli on Aug. 13 and again early Friday morning.
The order shuts the diner and orders "further steps to secure the premises and ensure it stays closed to the public such as by locking the facility's doors." It also said he must appear in state Superior Court on Sept. 17.
Brindisi told us that he got an alert from his alarm company about activity activity at the diner on Route 9 in the Forked River section.
"We hurried here. The Sheriff's Department was here and the locksmith was here to change the locks. They have an order. We'll see what happens from here," said Brindisi, who had been worried that police would arrest him.
Brindisi, however, ignored the latest order and opened again on Friday in time for breakfast. He said he changed back the locks and received a delivery of $4,000 worth of food.
"I told those guys, 'Listen, I know you guys are police officers. You know what, I'm a veteran. We both took the same oath and that oath never expires for me just like it never expires for you. I understand you have a pension and you have to do your job,'" Brindisi said. "'But this is my job. This is my pension. What gives you the right to take that away from me? I can't take it away from you.'"
"We give them this inch right now we're never, ever getting it back. It's gone forever. I'm not giving up I'm not laying down. I'm not here to make a political statement. I just want to run my business," Brindisi said.
Brindisi said his diner is more "COVID-compliant" than any big box store after the improvements he made.
"I take the virus very seriously. We remodeled the whole inside of our place. We used our life savings to redo this place so we would be compliant. This isn't the American dream that I thought. I'm a veteran and I don't feel this is fair at all," Brindisi said.
State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan mentioned Persichilli's order during Murphy's briefing on Friday.
"It is nothing we really take pleasure in but public safety and public health still remain the utmost concern for us all," Callahan said, adding that Topshelf Gym in Jefferson was also cited by police this week for allowing customers inside. An executive order allows for one-on-one training at fitness centers.
When Murphy was asked at the briefing if he was trying to send a message to other restaurants contemplating opening, the governor said he was.
"We have so much evidence it's irresponsible selfish behavior. The answer is, you're damn right we're going to enforce it," Murphy said.
Murphy's chief counsel, Matt Platkin, said that the use of a locksmith was not an "intimidation tactic" and is standard practice when closure orders are issued by a health commissioner.
Murphy has repeatedly said it is "too risky" to allow restaurants, gyms and theaters to open because the novel coronavirus spreads easily inside poorly ventilated areas where people are sedentary. The governor had said he planned to allow limited indoor dining starting July 2, but did an about face just two days before it would have gone into effect.
The governor also said he spoke with New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association President Marilou Halvorsen on Friday but did not elaborate on their conversation. Halvorsen told New Jersey 101.5 she had been communicating with Murphy's staff since July but did not get a response from Murphy until she was given his private cell phone number and texted him.
Restaurants in neighboring New York, except for New York City, and all of Pennsylvania except for Philadelphia are allowing indoor dining at reduced capacity.
Brindisi is represented by New York attorney Jim Mermigis, who also represents the Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, which has repeatedly defied the executive order restricting fitness centers.
A judge has imposed nearly $130,000 in fines against the owners of the gym. State Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy said in a recent decision that the gym could not “ignore orders with which it does not agree.” The decision requires the gym and its owners to pay almost $125,000 for violating a court order from Aug. 1 to 14, and to pay about $10,500 to the state for legal costs.
Mermigis did not immediately return messages on Friday morning.
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